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Italy: Media freedom coalition sounds the alarm on political…

Media Freedom coalition sounds the alarm on political meddling and legal threats to journalism

Amid the forthcoming EU elections, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) was prompted to organise an urgent advocacy mission to Italy on May 16-17 to address some recent developments related to press and media freedom. Such concerns included unprecedented political interference in the public service media, legal harassment of dissenting journalists by government members, and the potential acquisition of AGI news agency by MP Antonio Angelucci.

 

Available in Italian here.

Italy’s current state of media freedom raises significant concerns. The worrying trend of political interference and legal harassment undermines democratic principles and threatens the independence and pluralism essential for a free press.

 

During its visit to Rome, the MFRR delegation met with officials of several institutional bodies, such as:

 

  • Senator Barbara Floridia, President of the Parliamentary Committee for the general direction and supervision of radio and TV broadcasting in the Chamber of Deputies;
  • Senator Ilaria Cucchi, Deputy Chairwoman of the Justice Committee of the Senate of the Republic;
  • Giacomo Lasorella, President of the Italian Communications Regulatory Authority (AGCOM) alongside AGCOM board members;
  • MP Valentina Grippo, member of the Italian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe;
  • Dr Pierluigi Mazzella, Italian Government representative at the Steering Committee on Media and Information Society (CDMSI) of the Council of Europe;
  • Members of the Permanent Representation in Italy of the European Commission.

 

The MFRR delegation also met with several journalists from various media outlets, trade unions, and representatives of civil society organisations to analyse the state of play of media freedom in the country, joining the Unione Sindacale Giornalisti Rai (USiGRai) sit-in dedicated to press freedom in front of RAI headquarters.

 

Most regretfully, the mission did not have the opportunity to meet anyone from the ruling coalition, as all the requests for a meeting were either declined or ignored.

 

Political interference in public media

Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI), the Italian public service broadcaster, is currently subjected to an unprecedented degree of political interference that risks leading to a potential full state control. Although a certain politicisation of RAI is not a new phenomenon, discussions with journalists from RAI confirmed the unprecedented level of pressure and self-censorship.

 

The delegation welcomed Senator Barbara Floridia’s initiative promoting a national convention (“Stati Generali”) composed of all political parties, independent media experts, and other stakeholders, directed at reforming public media’s governance and funding in line with the European Media Freedom Act.

 

Failure to decriminalise defamation and reform defamation civil code provisions

Journalists, particularly investigative ones exposing wrongdoings by politicians and publishing information of public interest, face an increasing number of vexatious lawsuits often led by members of the current government, including the Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni

 

Instead of joining the European trend towards decriminalising defamation and bringing it under civil law, and starting to transpose the EU’s anti-SLAPP Directive, the Italian government chooses to go in the opposite direction. The Balboni Bill, which was proposed by the ruling coalition to reform defamation, not only fails to decriminalise defamation and to consider a comprehensive reform under the remit of the civil law. If approved, the provisions of the Balboni Bill risk compressing the space of editorial independence even further and exerting a heavier chilling effect on the journalistic community.

 

Potential acquisition of AGI news agency

The potential acquisition of one of the country’s leading news agencies, AGI (Agenzia Giornalistica Italiana), by MP Antonio Angelucci – who already controls several major newspapers – poses a significant risk to AGI’s editorial independence.

 

If it comes to fruition, the buyout would be in contrast with Article 6 of the European Media Freedom Act, stating that editorial managers must be free to make decisions without interference and that anyone with significant interests in media service providers must declare any conflicts of interest. Moreover, it could set a dangerous precedent that could put other news agencies in the country at risk.

 

Recommendations

  • We call on the Italian parliament together with independent experts, the journalists representative organisations, such as the Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (FNSI) and the Italian Chamber of Journalists (Ordine dei Giornalisti), in consultation with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to initiate a comprehensive reform of the legislation regulating Italian public broadcasters in line with Article 5 of the European Media Freedom Act;
  • We urge the Italian Parliament to implement a comprehensive reform of defamation laws, aligning them with EU and international freedom of expression standards;
  • If any acquisition bid for the news agency AGI concretises, regulators AGCOM and AGCM (Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato) should conduct a thorough and transparent evaluation and consider the impact on media pluralism, editorial independence, and conflict of interest, in accordance with the European Media Freedom Act.

 

MFRR Next steps

In the coming weeks, the MFRR will continue to closely monitor developments in the country in collaboration with local partners, and will reiterate the request for online meetings with representatives of the Italian ruling coalition. The final report outlining the key findings with a list of recommendations geared at the Italian government, but also the European Commission will be released in the coming months. The consortium experts are ready to offer their expertise to promote the independence of public media and press freedom in Italy.

La coalizione per la libertà dei media lancia l’allarme su interferenze politiche e minacce legali che colpiscono il giornalismo italiano

 

In vista delle prossime elezioni europee, il Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) è stato spinto a organizzare una missione di advocacy urgente in Italia il 16-17 maggio per affrontare alcuni sviluppi preoccupanti relativi alla libertà di stampa e dei media. Tra le questioni affrontate dal consorzio europeo figurano interferenze politiche senza precedenti nei media del servizio pubblico, minacce legali da parte di membri del governo nei confronti di giornalisti critici del potere, e la possibile acquisizione dell’agenzia di stampa AGI da parte del deputato Antonio Angelucci.

L’attuale stato della libertà dei media in Italia solleva numerosi timori. La preoccupante tendenza alle ingerenze politiche e alle molestie legali mina i principi democratici e minaccia l’indipendenza e il pluralismo essenziali per una stampa libera.

Durante la visita a Roma, la delegazione MFRR ha incontrato funzionari di diversi organi istituzionali, tra cui:

  • La senatrice Barbara Floridia, Presidente della Commissione parlamentare per l’indirizzo generale e la vigilanza dei servizi radiotelevisivi;
  • La senatrice Ilaria Cucchi, Vicepresidente della Commissione Giustizia del Senato della Repubblica;
  • Giacomo Lasorella, Presidente dell’Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni (AGCOM) insieme ai membri del consiglio AGCOM;
  • La Deputata Valentina Grippo, membro della delegazione italiana all’Assemblea parlamentare del Consiglio d’Europa;
  • Il dottor Pierluigi Mazzella, Rappresentante del governo italiano presso il Comitato Direttivo sui Media e la Società dell’Informazione (CDMSI) del Consiglio d’Europa;
  • Membri della Rappresentanza Permanente in Italia della Commissione Europea.

La delegazione MFRR ha incontrato diversi giornalisti di varie testate, sindacati e rappresentanti di organizzazioni della società civile per analizzare la situazione della libertà dei media nel paese, prendendo parte al sit-in dedicato alla libertà di stampa davanti alla sede della RAI ed organizzato dall’Unione Sindacale Giornalisti Rai (USiGRai).

Con grande rammarico, la missione non ha avuto l’opportunità di incontrare nessun esponente della coalizione di governo, poiché tutte le richieste di incontro sono state rifiutate o ignorate.

Ingerenze politiche nei media pubblici

La Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI), il servizio pubblico radiotelevisivo italiano, è attualmente soggetta a un grado di ingerenza politica senza precedenti che rischia di portare ad un completo controllo da parte del governo in carica. Sebbene una certa politicizzazione del servizio pubblico non sia un fenomeno nuovo, le discussioni con alcuni giornalisti della RAI hanno confermato un livello di pressione e autocensura senza precedenti.

La delegazione ha accolto con favore l’iniziativa della senatrice Barbara Floridia di promuovere una convenzione nazionale (“Stati Generali”) composta da tutti i partiti politici, esperti mediatici indipendenti e altri stakeholder, volta a riformare la governance e il finanziamento dei media pubblici in linea con lo il Regolamento europeo sulla libertà dei media.

Mancata depenalizzazione della diffamazione e riforma delle disposizioni del codice civile sulla diffamazione

I giornalisti, in particolare quelli investigativi che denunciano illeciti da parte di politici e pubblicano informazioni di interesse pubblico, devono fronteggiare un numero crescente di azioni temerarie spesso avviate da membri dell’attuale governo, compresa la Presidente del Consiglio, Giorgia Meloni.

Invece di aderire alla tendenza europea diretta alla depenalizzazione della diffamazione, di procedere con una riforma del codice civile, e di iniziare a recepire la direttiva anti-SLAPP dell’UE, il governo italiano sceglie di andare nella direzione opposta. Il DDL Balboni, proposto dalla coalizione di governo per riformare la diffamazione, non solo non depenalizza la diffamazione e non avvia una riforma completa nell’ambito del diritto civile: se approvato, le disposizioni del DDL Balboni rischiano di comprimere ulteriormente lo spazio dell’indipendenza editoriale e di esercitare un grave effetto inibitorio sulla comunità giornalistica.

Possibile acquisizione dell’agenzia di stampa AGI

La possibile acquisizione di AGI (Agenzia Giornalistica Italiana), da parte del deputato Antonio Angelucci – già proprietario di diversi importanti quotidiani – pone un serio rischio per l’indipendenza editoriale di una delle principali agenzie di stampa del paese.

Se si concretizzasse, l’acquisizione sarebbe in contrasto con l’articolo 6 del Regolamento europeo sulla libertà dei media, il quale stabilisce che i responsabili editoriali devono essere liberi di prendere decisioni senza interferenze e che chiunque abbia interessi in fornitori di servizi di media deve dichiarare eventuali conflitti di interesse. Tale acquisizione potrebbe inoltre creare un pericoloso precedente che rischierebbe di impattare altre agenzie di stampa nel paese e rappresenterebbe un ulteriore peggioramento dell’annoso problema della concentrazione dei media in Italia.

Raccomandazioni

  • Invitiamo il Parlamento italiano, affiancato da esperti indipendenti, dalle associazioni di categoria, tra cui la Federazione Nazionale della Stampa Italiana (FNSI) e l’Ordine dei Giornalisti (OdG), in collaborazione con con l’Unione Europea di Radiodiffusione (EBU) ad avviare una riforma completa della legislazione che regola i servizi radiotelevisivi pubblici italiani in linea con l’articolo 5 del Regolamento europeo sulla libertà dei media; 
  • Esortiamo il Parlamento italiano a implementare una riforma completa delle leggi sulla diffamazione, in linea con gli standard UE e internazionali sulla libertà di espressione;
  • Se si concretizzasse una proposta di acquisizione dell’agenzia di stampa AGI, i regolatori AGCOM e AGCM (Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato) dovrebbero condurre una valutazione approfondita e trasparente diretta a considerare l’impatto sul pluralismo dei media, l’indipendenza editoriale e il conflitto di interessi, in conformità con il Regolamento europeo sulla libertà dei media.

Prossimi passi della rete MFRR

Nelle prossime settimane, il consorzio MFRR, in collaborazione con i partner locali,  continuerà a monitorare gli sviluppi nel paese e rinnoverà la richiesta di incontro online con i rappresentanti della coalizione di governo italiana. I risultati della missione saranno presentati nei prossimi mesi in un rapporto accompagnato da una serie di raccomandazioni rivolte al governo italiano e alla Commissione Europea. Gli esperti del consorzio sono inoltre pronti a mettere a disposizione  la propria competenza per promuovere l’indipendenza dei media pubblici e la libertà di stampa in Italia.

La delegazione MFRR era composta da rappresentanti di ARTICLE 19 Europe, dell’European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), della European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), dell’International Press Institute (IPI) e di OBC Transeuropa (OBCT).

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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MFRR to conduct a mission to Italy amid worsening…

MFRR to conduct a mission to Italy amid worsening state of media freedom in the country

The growing pressure on press freedom in Italy has prompted the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) consortium to organise an urgent mission to Rome on May 16 and 17. The unprecedented political interference in the public service media, the increasing cases of vexatious lawsuits against journalists, and the possible sale of the AGI news agency will be the focus of the two-day visit. Meetings will be held with institutional stakeholders, journalists, trade unions and civil society.

 

Available in Italian here.

In light of the recent legislative developments on media freedom at the EU level, in particular the adoption of the anti-SLAPP Directive and the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), this mission aims at analysing the dramatic backlash on media freedom standards, drawing the attention of Italian and European policymakers to the violations against the EU legislative framework. 

 

Following up on the findings of the 2022 MFRR fact-finding mission to Italy, during the two-day visit to Rome on 16 and 17 May, the MFRR delegation will focus on three priority topics: the increasing political pressure on the public broadcaster RAI, the conflict of interest around the selling of the public news agency AGI (Agenzia Giornalistica Italia), and the ongoing reform of criminal defamation laws, in the framework of the increasing number of vexatious lawsuits that journalists face in Italy, often initiated by members of the government. 

 

The mission will be led by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), and will be joined by Article 19 Europe, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), and the International Press Institute (IPI).

 

The MFRR delegation has requested meetings with the Ministry of Justice, the Justice Commission at the Senate of the Republic, the Parliamentary Commission for the general direction and supervision of radio and television services, and to the Authority for the Telecommunications AGCOM. The delegation will also meet with Members of the Parliament who have taken part in parliamentary discussions concerning press freedom in Italy. 

 

The delegation will meet the representatives of local mission partners – Amnesty International Italia, Articolo 21, Consiglio Nazionale Ordine dei Giornalisti (CNOG), Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (FNSI), Unione Sindacale Giornalisti Rai (USiGRai), as well as journalists and other relevant stakeholders to engage in a dialogue on the current condition of the Italian media. 

 

The delegation will hold a press conference on May 17 at 11:00 at the premises of Consiglio Nazionale Ordine dei Giornalisti (sala Ocera, via Sommacampagna, 19, Rome) to present initial observations and recommendations from the mission. A detailed mission report will be published in the forthcoming weeks.

 

The MFRR consortium reiterates its long-standing commitment to improving press freedom in the country, in the wake of the recent developments and political pressure affecting press and media freedom in Italy.

Signed by:

  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

Libertà di stampa in Italia: il consorzio europeo MFRR in missione a Roma

La crescente pressione sulla libertà di stampa in Italia ha spinto il consorzio Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) a organizzare una missione urgente a Roma il 16 e 17 maggio. L’interferenza politica senza precedenti nei media del servizio pubblico, i crescenti casi di cause vessatorie contro i giornalisti e la possibile vendita dell’agenzia di stampa AGI saranno al centro della visita di due giorni. Sono previsti incontri con interlocutori istituzionali, giornalisti, sindacati e società civile

 

Alla luce dei recenti sviluppi legislativi sulla libertà di stampa e dei media a livello europeo, in particolare l’adozione della direttiva anti-SLAPP e della Legge Europea sulla Libertà dei Media (EMFA), questa missione si propone di analizzare il serio peggioramento degli standard per la libertà dei media nel paese, richiamando l’attenzione dei politici italiani ed europei sulle violazioni del quadro legislativo europeo. 

 

Dando seguito alla precedente visita in Italia del 2022, durante i due giorni a Roma, il 16 e 17 maggio, la delegazione MFRR si concentrerà su tre temi prioritari: la crescente pressione politica sull’emittente pubblica RAI, la vendita dell’agenzia di stampa pubblica AGI e la riforma delle leggi penali sulla diffamazione, alla luce del crescente numero di cause vessatorie che i giornalisti devono affrontare in Italia. 

 

La missione sarà guidata dalla Federazione dei Giornalisti europei (EFJ) e da Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), cui si uniranno Article 19 Europe, lo European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) e l’International Press Institute (IPI).

 

La delegazione MFRR ha richiesto incontri con rappresentanti del Ministero della Giustizia, della Commissione Giustizia del Senato della Repubblica, della Commissione parlamentare per l’indirizzo generale e la vigilanza dei servizi radiotelevisivi e dell’Autorità per le Telecomunicazioni AGCOM. La delegazione incontrerà anche i parlamentari che hanno partecipato alle discussioni sulla libertà di stampa in Italia. 

 

La delegazione europea incontrerà inoltre i rappresentanti di cinque partner locali – Amnesty International Italia, Articolo 21, Consiglio Nazionale Ordine dei Giornalisti (CNOG), Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (FNSI), Unione Sindacale Giornalisti Rai (USiGRai), nonché giornalisti e altri soggetti interessati per avviare un dialogo sulla condizione attuale dei media italiani.

 

Venerdì 17 maggio, La delegazione terrà una conferenza stampa il 17 maggio alle ore 11:00 presso la sede del Consiglio dell’Ordine dei Giornalisti a Roma (sala Ocera, via Sommacampagna 19) per presentare le prime osservazioni e raccomandazioni della missione. Un rapporto dettagliato della missione sarà pubblicato nelle settimane a venire.

 

Il consorzio MFRR ribadisce il suo impegno di lunga data per migliorare la libertà di stampa nel Paese, sulla scia dei recenti sviluppi e delle pressioni politiche che hanno colpito la libertà di stampa e dei media in Italia.

 

Firmato:

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

International Press Institute (IPI)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

ARTICLE 19 Europe

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Press freedom in Italy: those in power are not…

Press freedom in Italy: those in power are not to be criticised

In 2021, then opposition leader Giorgia Meloni sued Roberto Saviano for defamation. Last October, the Rome Criminal Court issued a sentence against the Italian writer. A ruling that alarmed Italian and European civil society. We had a conversation about it with Antonio Nobile, Saviano’s lawyer.

 

By Sielke Kelner

Originally published by OBCT. Also available in ITA

The defamation lawsuit filed by Giorgia Meloni against Italian writer Roberto Saviano has ended with a first-degree criminal conviction issued by Rome Criminal Court. The judge convicted Saviano of criminal defamation, acknowledging, however, mitigating circumstances: the moral motivation that, according to the Court, led Roberto Saviano to formulate his criticism. While the prosecutor had asked for the writer to pay a fine of 10,000 euros, the criminal court reduced this to 1,000 euros. The verdict was met with dismay by Italian and European civil society. The involvement of a high-level public figure, specifically the Prime Minister acting as plaintiff, along with the public interest nature of the dispute concerning the rescues of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea by NGOs, has raised significant concerns regarding Italian freedom of expression. According to MFRR and CASE, Meloni’s lawsuit is a SLAPP. They also argue that the verdict sets a dangerous precedent that could facilitate further attempts to silence public watchdogs criticizing political leaders. We discussed this with Antonio Nobile, Saviano’s lawyer. Nobile is a criminal defense lawyer registered at the Naples Bar Association, he also acts as an expert in criminal procedural law at the University of Southern Lazio.

 

From the perspective of a criminal defense lawyer, what are the consequences of this verdict on press freedom and freedom of expression in Italy?

First and foremost, the immediate effects are on Saviano, who has a defamation conviction on his criminal record, which is damaging for a political intellectual. Additionally, from the beginning, this trial has had a strong symbolic element. This legal action and the decision to pursue it even when Meloni became Prime Minister [when the lawsuit was filed she was the leader of the political opposition] have a symbolic value because the individuals involved are very well-known. Saviano is a very well-known Italian intellectual, in Italy and abroad. If someone wanted to dispatch a clear message, then Saviano was the ideal target. The consequences for the rule of law are immediately measurable starting from a technical consideration: the whole jurisprudence produced by the ECtHR which has recognized investigative and political journalists as public watchdogs.

 

Have we experienced a deterioration of Italian freedom of press and expression in recent years? 

The state of affairs is worrying because this trial represents a worsening drift. I have been defending Saviano for almost 15 years now, and over the years Saviano has faced numerous lawsuits. The only two criminal lawsuits which have not been dismissed during preliminary investigations, were those in which the plaintiffs were Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini. If we want to consider free expression, even in relation to a sharp and strong criticism, as a sort test of the health of democracy, then indeed, this conviction is bad news. The way in which the entire process has been managed is bad news.

 

During the hearing last October, the prosecutor argued that calling a politician a bastard does not fall under the exercise of harsh political criticism, it rather constitutes an attack on the person. Why does the insult formulated by Saviano not represent an attack on reputation?

It is not an attack on reputation because when talking about defamation in connection to the right to criticize, it is important to assess the context of the criticism. The prosecutor’s conclusions would have made sense if, during an interview, Saviano had gratuitously and casually called Meloni a bastard. Moreover, those conclusions of the Prosecutor’s Office are based on falsification. Saviano never used the singular. Its plural, “bastards”, gave much more the sense of political criticism. However, the expression was tuned to the singular by both the private and the public prosecutors because there was a need to portray a political criticism— directed towards multiple subjects across the political spectrum who had expressed the same negative approach regarding NGOs’ sea rescues of migrants—as a personal attack, which was the only way to rule out any legitimacy to the criticism formulated by Saviano. Exonerating circumstances related to the right to criticize, moreover, were partly recognized in the verdict. In fact, while Saviano was convicted, the judge acknowledged a mitigating circumstance associated with the high moral and social value of his criticism. Nonetheless, in this trial, the prosecution was very worried about the plaintiff.

 

How do you explain the decision of the Roman court?

What struck me from the very beginning is that the day before, another verdict was issued in the appeal against Mimmo Lucano [former mayor of Riace, in Calabria, who had promoted a progressive model for the integration of migration in his town]. Another judicial case that has drawn a lot of attention. Mimmo Lucano, like Saviano, was identified as an extraordinary propaganda opportunity by the same politicians who chose Saviano as their ideal target. Because in defamation cases, alongside with defendants, their ideas are objects of the trial. If I were to give a legal explanation, I would imagine that in the best-case scenario, the court considered the ECtHR judgment analyzing the case of an Austrian politician who was called an idiot by a journalist criticizing him because this Austrian politician had said that even Nazi soldiers had contributed to building peace. The Court makes a very interesting reasoning by saying: this criticism is justified because the politician, while making that abhorrent statement, has in mind a propaganda purpose. In that ruling, the Court mentions the concept of consciously provoked outrage, which according to me is a very convincing definition of the concept of propaganda. What does this mean? The politician, to put it informally, makes a big statement because he knows that he will provoke outrage, for opposite reasons, both among his supporters and the other political party. When this happens, criticism, argues the ECtHR, can be proportionate. Hence, even very harsh criticism is allowed. The verdict convicting Saviano does not address this issue and also confuses some of the constituent elements of the crime of defamation. While reading it, I had the strong feeling that the judge herself was not convinced of the decision to convict, but I think external factors weighed in heavily.

 

What is the context in which the verdict was issued?

A few days before the verdict, Italian politics were dominated by the debate surrounding a Sicilian judge who had refused to apply the so-called Cutro decree [the governmental decree issued after a shipwreck off the beach of Cutro, in Calabria in which almost 100 people lost their lives]. According to the rule of law, judges are called to interpret the law in order to apply it. They are asked to take into account laws’ compatibility with the constitutional framework. Arguing, as Meloni did, that judges must apply the laws tout court and refrain from any interpretation is outrageous. The idea that a judge must apply a law always and in any case, even when the law is unconstitutional, goes against the principles considered essential by our fundamental Charter. It is an extremely dangerous idea that indicates an authoritarian and illiberal vision of democracy on the part of the Government.

 

What does it mean to have a high level public official suing you? 

In Saviano’s case, a head of government who acts as plaintiff in a trial poses enormous consequences for the separation of powers, affecting the independence of the judiciary. If I, as a judge, know that the lawyer I have in front of me will become a deputy minister of justice within a year, or I know that the lawyer I have in front of me will become a member of the Superior Council of the Judiciary within a year, and that therefore my career could pass through the desk of that lawyer, you understand well that independence is compromised. The situations described are not random examples: they concern respectively what happened in the trials brought against Saviano by Meloni and Salvini. Throughout the whole process, we experienced an anomaly, where the powerful individual seemed to be Saviano. And the person to be protected, Meloni, even when she became Prime Minister. This suggests that politicians believe they are entitled to a sort of retaliation against the journalistic community. Today we have reached the point where, and this is what the Meloni government has legitimized, lawsuits are filed no matter what. Or at least the threat of lawsuit, because between the threat of a lawsuit and the formalization of a lawsuit, there is the ocean in between. Threats of lawsuits are made public without any attempt by the plaintiffs to refute the criticism that was formulated against them. An investigation provides evidence of a certain situation involving a minister, a deputy minister, or a party member, and the response is: I will sue you. There is hardly any justification. Because what it is conveyed is that power is not to be criticized. And if it is criticized, you are criticizing it for an interest, so you must be punished.

 

Moving on to the activities of the Italian legislature, in 2020 and 2021, the Constitutional Court had invited Parliament to initiate a broad debate on the issue of defamation through the press, both in civil and criminal matters. During the past year, 5 different bills were presented. Last fall, only one was selected to be pursued in the parliamentary process, the Balboni bill.

I say this against my professional interest, but my idea is that defamation should be decriminalized: defamation should not be a crime. Provided that there is a legal framework in place for those who feel that have suffered damages to their reputation. They are entitled to take action in civil court and obtain damage compensations. A provision which should be balanced by the possibility of declaring the recklessness of the action. A possibility that already exists in our legal system in civil matters, but which should be implemented by establishing criteria of proportionality between the damage claimed by the plaintiff and the severity of the penalty in the event of proven recklessness in the dispute. If we truly want to implement and fully fulfil the spirit of Article 21 of the Italian Constitution, the idea that someone can be criminally prosecuted for expressing their ideas is, in my view, no longer acceptable. As long as defamation remains a crime, we risk interpretations that are each time different and linked to contingencies.

This interview was conducted by OBCT as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Italy: MFRR partners strongly condemn investigation into Domani journalists

Italy: MFRR partners strongly condemn investigation into Domani journalists

The undersigned media freedom and civil society organisations strongly condemn the investigation of three Domani journalists for allegedly receiving confidential documents from a public official and for alleged breaching of secrets through the publication of information contained in those documents. The charges are connected to their reporting on a conflict of interest involving a member of the current government. The journalists face up to 5 years in prison under Italian criminal law. Our organisations call for the investigation to be dropped immediately. No journalist investigating matters of public interest, or their sources, should fear nor be exposed to intimidation, conviction, or imprisonment.

In October 2022, Defence Minister Guido Crosetto announced that he had instructed a law firm to take legal action against the newspaper Domani over an article authored by Giovanni Tizian and Emiliano Fittipaldi which examined a potential conflict of interest related to his links to the arms industry. The article highlighted Crosetto’s past roles as a lobbyist and adviser for the arms industry in Italy since 2014, following his departure from active politics. Documents obtained by Domani revealed that Crosetto earned 1.8 million euros from defence contractor Leonardo for his consultancy work between 2018 and 2021. The article argued that Crosetto’s extensive ties to the arms industry and his personal relationships with key industry figures represented a conflict of interest.

 

While the lawsuit has never been formalised, Crosetto filed a complaint which led to the Perugia Public Prosecutor’s Office initiating a preliminary investigation of Domani’s journalists Giovanni Tizian, Nello Trocchia, and Stefano Vergine. The three journalists are charged with two accusations: firstly, complicity in a concerted action with a public official regarding unauthorised access to documents from two sets of databases related respectively to tax revenues and preliminary investigation and pending proceedings across a number of  prosecution offices. Secondly, they are charged with revealing secrets through the publication of information contained in those documents. According to the formulated charges against Domani’s journalists, they had allegedly received documents regarding politicians, businessmen, and members of criminal organisations, including files related to Crosetto’s tax return declaration, information which presumably would have allowed Domani to report on the Defense Minister’s revenues in October 2022. Under the Italian criminal code, the three journalists may face up to 5 years in prison for complicity with a public official in unauthorised access to documents from databases and 3 years for breaching confidentiality. Domani’s newsroom fears that the current investigation conducted by the Perugia Prosecutor’s Office represents an attempt at breaching the confidentiality of their sources and silencing their investigative reporting on members of the current government.

 

The MFRR notes that Italian press freedom has fallen under renewed pressure, with Domani being the target of several attempts from the ruling coalition to silence their critical reporting, including the recent accusation of being involved in doxing activities against a number of politicians. Within the broader context, characterised by a steep increase in vexatious lawsuits filed against the press by leading government ministers, alarming bills aimed at reforming defamation and court reporting, as well as political interference in the public broadcaster, the charges brought against Domani’s investigative team represent a further worrying indicator of a rapidly deteriorating environment for Italian press freedom.

 

The undersigned organisations strongly condemn the decision to investigate the three journalists and call for the preliminary investigation to be immediately dropped, in line with international press freedom standards. We further denounce any attempts from the Italian authorities to compromise the confidentiality of journalistic sources. The protection of journalists’ sources is of paramount importance and must be respected by authorities in line with Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Article 4 of the European Media Freedom Act, according to which member states shall not detain, sanction, intercept or inspect media workers or any persons who, because of their relationship with a media service provider or its editorial staff, might have information related to or capable of identifying journalistic sources or confidential communications.

 

We will continue to monitor the Perugia Prosecutor’s Office’s investigations and stand strong in support of Domani’s newsroom.

Signed by:

ARTICLE 19 Europe

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Silencing Voices in Italy: The Erosion of Media Freedom

Silencing Voices in Italy: The Erosion of Media Freedom

Italy’s media is in crisis, battling legal onslaughts and facing a surge of censorship one year after the establishment of the far-right government led by Giorgia Meloni.

By Sielke Kelner

 

This article was originally published by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung and can be accessed here.

Over the past year, Mapping Media Freedom, the monitoring tool of the Media Freedom Rapid Response, has registered 95 alerts related to Italy. For an indication of the source of these incidents it is worth mentioning some numbers: 17 physical assaults; 23 verbal attacks; 34 legal incidents; and 14 alerts related to censorship attempts. To be sure, the last two indicators are associated with the dialectics between media and the Italian government, and, although to different degrees, signal a restriction of the space for public contestation.

 

Accounted for within legal incidents, SLAPPs, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, pose a threat to democracy across Europe. A form of legal harassment against critical voices, SLAPPs are pursued by powerful individuals, including politicians, who seek to avoid public scrutiny, inhibiting debates on matters of public interest. The very notion of public interest defines SLAPPs. We arguably have a SLAPP when the legal dispute concerns the content of an article related to issues such as politics, social welfare, education, health issues, climate, or the environment. We do not have a SLAPP if the content is related to the private life of an individual, provided that these details do not have a consequence on the public interest. SLAPPs’ final goal is not winning the lawsuit, but to economically and psychologically drain the defendant and reduce them to silence. Eventually, SLAPPs trigger a ‘chilling effect’ on the rest of the community, convincing others to give up their right to public participation.

 

In Italy, the overwhelming majority of vexatious lawsuits are enabled by defamation provisions, which can take the shape of civil or criminal lawsuits. Italian politicians have a long-standing tradition of resorting to defamation provisions in order to silence critical voices. Among the highest-profile public figures who responded to investigative journalism and satirical illustrations with manifestly underfunded or exaggerated lawsuits: in 1988, PM Christian Democrat Ciriaco De Mita sued director of newspaper l’Unità Massimo D’Alema over the title of an article; in 1999, when Massimo D’Alema became PM himself, leading a social-democratic coalition, he sued Giorgio Forattini for a satirical illustration; fast forward to 2009, liberal conservative PM Silvio Berlusconi sued Italian outlet La Repubblica for an article. Over the decades, resorting to vexatious lawsuits has been practiced across the aisle.

 

However, throughout the past year, the number of legal intimidations initiated by public figures and targeting critics of the government has been increasing steeply. The following list is representative of what has become an ordinary abuse of Italian defamation provisions, or the threat to resort to them, at the hands of members of the current cabinet.

 

In October 2022, Defence minister Guido Crosetto announced that he had instructed a law firm to take legal action against the newspaper Domani over an article examining a potential conflict of interest related to his links to the arms industry.

 

In November 2022, the public prosecutor decided to open a criminal defamation trial following a lawsuit against Domani initiated by the current PM then leader of the opposition Giorgia Meloni in 2021. The legal action stemmed from an article that raised concerns about a controversial procurement process of face masks during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

At the beginning of March 2023, Domani’s newsroom learned that Claudio Durigon, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, had initiated legal proceedings against them when two police officers handed them a seizure order directed at one of Domani’s articles. Authored by investigative journalists Giovanni Tizian and Nello Trocchia, the article examined the alleged links between Durigon and members of local criminal organizations in Latina, south of Rome. The seizure order triggered an international response by freedom of expression organizationsItalian and European trade unions, as well as MEPs, followed by an awkward order of release of the article signed by Rome’s prosecutor. The lawsuit was recently dismissed by Rome’s judge of preliminary investigations.

 

At the end of May, Adolfo Urso, Minister of Enterprises and Made in Italy and member of Fratelli d’Italia party, announced he will take legal action against RAI’s investigative program Report following alleged “blatant falsehoods made with clear defamatory intent” contained in the broadcast.

 

At the beginning of June, Lega leader and current minister of Infrastructures Matteo Salvini announced that he had instructed his lawyers to file a complaint against L’Espresso for their 2019 report about the so-called Metropol case, which revealed alleged connections between Lega and the Kremlin.

 

A few days later, Minister of Tourism and member of Fratelli d’Italia party Daniela Santanché announced she had given her lawyers the mandate to file a defamation lawsuit against RAI’s investigative program Report due to its recent critical reporting on the minister’s business ventures.

 

At the beginning of August, Arianna Meloni, wife of Minister of Agriculture Francesco Lollobrigida and sister of the prime minister Giorgia Meloni, currently secretary of the political section of leading coalition party Fratelli d’Italia, filed a lawsuit against satirical illustrator Mario Natangelo in relation to a caricature.

 

Last September, Giancarlo Giorgetti, current minister of the Economy, has announced that he instructed his lawyers to file a lawsuit against daily newspaper Domani for an article authored by investigative journalist Giovanni Tizian. In the quoted piece, Tizian had examined links between business ventures and government contracts granted to Francesca Verdini, partner of Matteo Salvini.

 

At the beginning of October, Ignazio La Russa, president of the Senate and member of Fratelli d’Italia, announced a criminal defamation complaint against RAI show Report. The announcement was made one day prior to the show screening an episode dedicated to La Russa’s family alleged business ventures. In the meantime, Report’s presenter, Sigfrido Ranucci, was summoned by RAI Director’s Supervisory Committee, a further manifestation of political pressure. The summon was not only unusual, given that individual journalists have never been audited by the Committee before; member of the ruling coalition have taken the chance to publicly mock Ranucci during the meeting.

 

A few days later, Italian writer and journalist Roberto Saviano was found guilty of criminal defamation by the Criminal Court of Rome. The case was instigated by Giorgia Meloni in November 2021, before she took on her current position as Prime Minister. The criminal lawsuit charged Saviano with aggravated criminal defamation because of his outspoken criticisms regarding Meloni’s unwavering anti-migrant position.

 

Finally, last December, the third hearing in the criminal defamation trial initiated by current minister of Transportation Matteo Salvini against Roberto Saviano was postponed for the second time by the judge due to Salvini’s non-appearance. In a social media post, Saviano had called the Lega leader “minister of the underworld”, echoing an essay by Italian journalist and historian Gaetano Salvemini.

 

What do Sigfrido Ranucci, Roberto Saviano, Mario Natangelo, Giovanni Tizian and Nello Trocchia have in common? In their different capacities, they are critics of high-profile figures of the current government. The latter ones seem oblivious of the European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence, which has clarified that public figures, especially those in political roles, should tolerate a higher degree of criticism and scrutiny due to their prominent position in society. Yet, the legal cases listed above are a reminder that freedom of expression is a right that cannot be taken for granted, and it is central not only to media practitioners, but to the society as a whole. The role of journalists as public watchdogs lays at the heart of the participation of the society in public affairs. And the degree of freedom accorded to political debate and criticism constitutes the very essence of democratic societies.

 

This alarming trend has been accompanied by a problematic bill put forward by the ruling coalition which aims at reforming defamation. Currently being discussed by the Justice Commission of the Italian Senate, the bill advances provisions directed at increasing the fines for criminal defamation up to 50,000 euros and introduces disciplinary penalties intended to disqualify journalists from practising the profession for a period of up to six months Similarly, the introduction of automatic rectifications without the chance for the editor to add a title, comment or reply risks compressing the space for press freedom. Such provisions represent a serious source of concern for Italian civil society and collide with the interpretation of the right to freedom of expression provided by the European Court of Human Rights. They risk triggering a chilling effect on freedom of the press and expression.

 

More recently, the Costa bill emerged as one more example of Italian decision makers’ attempt to control media reporting. Approved by the lower chamber of the Parliament before the Winter break, the amendment forbids transcripts’ publications of pre-trial detention orders until the end of the preliminary investigations, severely restricting court reporting. In a national context characterized by a sizable phenomenon of collusion between politics and criminal organizations, the Costa amendment poses a threat to citizens’ right to be informed.

 

Another critical episode which has been shaping the relation between media and the Meloni government pertains to the interreference of the executive in the governance of the public broadcasting service. To be sure, the independence of RAI, Radiotelevisione italiana, the Italian national public broadcasting company, is a traditionally sensitive topic which periodically surfaces on Italian political agenda, its funding and governance being subjected to political interference. The 2023 Media Pluralism Monitor, placed Italy among the countries in which the independence of public service media is most threatened, RAI’s governance and funding being both subjected to political interference. Last Spring, the current cabinet operated significant internal management changes which led to the resignation of the public broadcaster CEO. On that occasion, international media freedom groups raised alarm about Italian public service broadcaster’s independence. Such political appointment set a worrisome precedent for two reasons. Firstly, RAI CEO resigned one year prior to his term conclusion citing political pressure, just few weeks before the yearly expiration of a number of RAI’s tv show contracts. Secondly, the newly appointed CEO, Roberto Sergio, swiftly invoked “a new storytelling”, arguably in line with the ruling coalition’s agenda, which had immediate consequences on RAI’s programming. The timing resulted in a flood of well-established shows migrating to private broadcasting companies, such as the celebrated show Che Tempo Che Fa led by Italian journalist Fabio Fazio. Similarly, the case of Roberto Saviano’s anti-mafia showInsider, which had been already recorded and cancelled abruptly caused international resentment. What both Fazio and Saviano have in common, alongside with other professionals who left RAI over the past few months, is their criticism, subtle or vocal, toward members of the current cabinet.

 

Six months later, tv shows introduced by the new RAI management, aligned to an agenda which favored political interests over the public one, have shown their limits, audience shares having dropped significantly. Additionally, Giorgia Meloni’s coalition partner, Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini has succeeded in shrinking the funding allocation to the broadcasting service, a provision which was introduced into the recently approved Budget Law. A condition which further threatens RAI’s financial autonomy.

 

The use of SLAPPs by public figures, attempts to control court reporting, and political interference in the public broadcasting service, are part of a broader contraction of the space for public contestation in Italy. A trend which cannot be dissociated from other worrying endeavors of the current Government to restrict the civic space, such as the criminalization of climate dissent. It is not by chance that such factors are accounted for in the assessment of the European Commission’s Rule of Law mechanism. Francesca De Benedetti, Domani’s journalist who leads the European affairs department, indicates vexatious lawsuits and political interreference as deterioration signals of the rule of law in Italy. She draws the attention on a further alarming conduct of the ruling party, “the PM’s unwillingness or irritation at having to respond to questions from journalists, who are sometimes accused of going against the country if they ask her about some ongoing scandal.” According to De Benedetti, “Of all the attacks on the rule of law, attacks on the media and judges are among the most insidious, because it means attacking the sentinels of democracy, with knock-on effects in all areas”.

 

The distress signals sent by Italian journalists, local stakeholders, and trade unions as well as international media freedom organizations are to be taken seriously. Academic evidence has proved that amid the ongoing trend of autocratization, electoral systems and procedures usually stand strong. It’s media freedom, the right to express oneself, access to alternative information sources, that are facing erosion. While V-Dem Institute 2023 Democracy Report shows how in the past ten years autocratization processes (i.e. denoting the decline of democratic qualities) have been mushrooming globally, its authors argue that media freedom and freedom of expression have been dramatically impacted by these dynamics. To be sure, the report highlights how attacks on media and contraction of the freedom of expression are the first targets of “wanna-be dictators”.

 

Intolerance to criticism pertaining political conduct and political interference in the public broadcasting service both signal a disquieting trend of Italian leadership which fails to take into consideration the public interest. It also constitutes an early warning of the erosion of one of the most important democratic features, media freedom and freedom of expression. Falling short on criticism acceptance is a tendency which is reminiscent of what Umberto Eco, during a lesson delivered at Columbia University in the 1990s, identified as a feature of Ur-Fascism. According to Eco, “In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason”.

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Italy: MFRR partners condemn summons of RAI presenter Sigfrido…

Italy: MFRR partners condemn summons of RAI presenter Sigfrido Ranucci

In a collective statement released today, the partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) condemn the summoning of Sigfrido Ranucci, a prominent presenter at Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI), by the Parliamentary Committee responsible for the oversight of radio and TV broadcasting. This development is viewed as a clear act of intimidation, specifically aimed at an independent investigative TV programme that has consistently produced critical reports on various members of the current government.

The partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today condemn the summoning of Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI) presenter Sigfrido Ranucci by the Parliamentary Committee for the general direction and supervision of radio and TV broadcasting. We see this summons as another intimidation practice targeting an independent investigative TV programme, whose reporting has been critical of a number of members of the current government. 

Our organisations also urge the Italian Parliament to guarantee the independence of the Italian public service broadcaster (RAI) and halt unjustified political interference on its journalistic output.

On 25 October 2023, representatives of the hard-right government coalition voted to  summon Ranucci in his capacity as deputy director of RAI In-Depth Broadcast Directorate (Direzione Approfondimento). The Committee is chaired by the opposition party Five Star Movement and consists of a group of 40 senators and deputies, its composition reflecting the parliamentary configuration. 

Ranucci appeared before the committee on 7 November alongside Paolo Corsini, who chairs the Directorate. This was the first time that the Parliamentary Committee has singled out the authors of a particular TV show for summons and questioning. On paper, the hearing was called to discuss the general criteria regarding RAI’s investigative broadcasting.  However, the parliamentary questioning ended up focusing exclusively on Ranucci’s investigative show, Report and its finances. 

Throughout the past 27 years, Report has investigated numerous important public interest matters ranging from politics to corruption to the environment. The previous month, two investigative episodes broadcasted by Report sparked hostile reactions among members of the ruling coalition: one episode was about the president of the senate Ignazio La Russa and the other on the late president of coalition partner Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi

During the hearing, Ranucci defended the program’s independence and presented data on audience shares, providing evidence of Reports’ consistent viewers’ trends and budget allocation. He reminded the Committee how Report’s journalists have been brought to court 178 times and never found guilty. 

The tone of the parliamentary interaction and the circumstances in which the hearing was called signal an increasing risk of political interference to independent public service broadcasting and media freedom in Italy. 

The MFRR acknowledges that RAI’s independence is under renewed pressure, after the announcement of significant budget cuts, and the previous resignation of its CEO and other major politically-influenced internal management changes. 

We condemn this summons as an act of unjustified pressure and intimidation against Report’s independent investigative work, and we are alarmed by the threatening signal it sends to the Italian media community. We also express our deep concern for the mocking behaviour shown by some members of the governing coalition during the summons.

Along with Italian civil society and the Italian trade union of journalists Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (FNSI), we  stand strong in support of Ranucci and Report. We renew our call to the Italian Parliament to enact a legislation aimed at safeguarding public service media from unwarranted interference and ensuring its financial support, in line with the European Media Freedom Act’s proposal.

Signed by:

  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

Italia: i partner MFRR condannano la convocazione del conduttore RAI Sigfrido Ranucci

 

Le organizzazioni partner del consorzio Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) condannano oggi la convocazione del conduttore della Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI) Sigfrido Ranucci da parte della Commissione parlamentare per la direzione generale e la vigilanza sulle trasmissioni radiofoniche e televisive. Consideriamo questa convocazione come un altro atto intimidatorio nei confronti di un programma di giornalismo investigativo indipendente i cui servizi sono stati critici nei confronti di numerosi membri dell’attuale governo.

Le nostre organizzazioni sollecitano inoltre il Parlamento italiano a garantire l’indipendenza del servizio pubblico televisivo (RAI) e a porre fine alle ingiustificate ingerenze politiche sulla sua produzione giornalistica.

Il 25 ottobre 2023, i rappresentanti della coalizione di governo di estrema destra hanno votato per convocare Ranucci in qualità di vicedirettore della Direzione Approfondimento della RAI. La Commissione è presieduta dal partito di opposizione Movimento Cinque Stelle ed è composta da 40 senatori e deputati scelti in modo da riflettere la configurazione parlamentare.

Ranucci è comparso davanti alla Commissione il 7 novembre insieme a Paolo Corsini, che presiede il Direttivo. È la prima volta che la Commissione parlamentare convoca e interroga gli autori di un programma televisivo. Sulla carta l’udienza era convocata per discutere i criteri generali riguardanti l’attività investigativa della Rai, ma l’interrogazione parlamentare si è concentrata esclusivamente sul programma d’inchiesta di Ranucci, Report, e sulle sue finanze.

Nel corso degli ultimi 27 anni, Report ha indagato su numerose importanti questioni di interesse pubblico che vanno dalla politica alla corruzione all’ambiente. Il mese precedente, due inchieste avevano suscitato reazioni ostili tra i membri della coalizione di governo: una riguardava il presidente del Senato Ignazio La Russa e l’altra il defunto presidente del partito partner di coalizione Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi.

Durante l’udienza, Ranucci ha ribadito l’indipendenza del programma e ha presentato i dati sugli ascolti, fornendo prove dell’andamento stabile del programma e dell’allocazione del budget. Ha inoltre ricordato alla Commissione come i giornalisti di Report siano stati portati in tribunale 178 volte e mai trovati colpevoli.

Il tono dell’udienza parlamentare e le circostanze in cui è stata convocata l’udienza segnalano un crescente rischio di ingerenza politica nel servizio pubblico indipendente e nella libertà dei media in Italia.

MFRR nota che l’indipendenza della RAI è sotto rinnovata pressione dopo l’annuncio di significativi tagli al budget, le precedenti dimissioni del suo amministratore delegato e altri importanti cambiamenti al management interno dettati da influenze politiche.

Condanniamo questa convocazione come un atto ingiustificato di pressione e intimidazione contro il lavoro investigativo indipendente di Report e siamo allarmati dal segnale minaccioso che invia alla comunità dei media italiani. Esprimiamo inoltre la nostra profonda preoccupazione per l’atteggiamento beffardo mostrato da alcuni membri della coalizione di governo nel corso della convocazione.

Insieme alla società civile italiana e al sindacato italiano dei giornalisti Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (FNSI), ribadiamo il nostro sostegno a Ranucci ed a Report. Rinnoviamo il nostro appello al Parlamento italiano affinché promulghi una legislazione volta a salvaguardare i media di servizio pubblico da interferenze ingiustificate e ad assicurarne il sostegno economico in linea con la proposta dell’European Media Freedom Act.

Signed by:

  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
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Italy: Roberto Saviano’s conviction a major blow to free…

Italy: Roberto Saviano’s conviction a major blow to free expression

The undersigned international media freedom, free expression, and journalist organisations express shock over yesterday’s criminal conviction of writer and journalist Roberto Saviano, in a case brought by current Italian PM Giorgia Meloni, and we convey our full solidarity with him.

On 12 October 2023, the Criminal Court of Rome convicted Saviano of criminal defamation. The case was initiated by Meloni in November 2021, prior to her assuming the current role of Prime Minister. The criminal lawsuit accused Saviano of aggravated criminal defamation due to his critical comments about Meloni’s persistent anti-migrant stance, voiced during the television programme, Piazza Pulita. Saviano’s remarks came after Piazza Pulita covered the tragic death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea, one of the migrants who drowned  in the Mediterranean when Italian authorities delayed their rescue efforts.

 

The prosecutor had asked for a fine of 10,000 euros for the criminal charge while its civil law counterpart demanded an additional 75,000 euros in damages. The judge acknowledged the mitigating circumstances, mentioning the moral motivation that led Roberto Saviano to formulate his criticism. The criminal court ordered the writer to pay a fine of 1,000 euros, and 2,600 euros of legal expenses; a further compensation for civil claims of the plaintiff will be determined by a civil court. The final text of the decision that includes the judge’s reasoning will be published in 90 days. 

 

We believe that Roberto Saviano’s criminal conviction sets a dangerous example which may further facilitate attempts to muzzle critical commentary on public officials and political leaders, bearing grave consequences not only for Roberto Saviano, but also for Italy’s wider press freedom. Defamation laws used to silence criticism have a chilling effect on the society as a whole, and can lead to self-censorship among writers, journalists, activists and human rights defenders and the general public. 

 

The right to freedom of expression encompasses the right to express opinions and ideas that may be considered offensive, shocking, or disturbing. The ECtHR has clarified that public figures, especially those in political roles, should tolerate a higher degree of criticism and scrutiny due to their prominent position in society. Criminal prosecution to suppress criticism against public officials is a violation of the right to freedom of expression as protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

 

Our organisations  have been observing how public officials have been increasingly using defamation lawsuits to target journalists and writers reporting on issues of public interest. We emphasise the necessity of ensuring a conducive work environment for journalists in Italy to empower them to report on crucial topics in the public interest and to pose challenging questions without the fear of facing legal threats. Using a criminal defamation lawsuit to silence critical voices cannot happen in a democratic society. We call again the urgent need for Parliament to comprehensively reform outdated defamation laws in Italy and bring them in line with international freedom of expression standards.  

 

As Saviano’s lawyer has announced that the decision of the court will be appealed, we will continue to monitor the legal proceedings of the Rome court and stand strong in  support of the Italian writer and journalist.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe 
  • Blueprint for Free Speech 
  • Civil Liberties Union for Europe 
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) 
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • Frente Cívica, Portugal 
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU) 
  • Fondazione Libera Informazione 
  • Index on Censorship 
  • International Press Institute (IPI) 
  • Meglio Legale 
  • OBC Transeuropa 
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation 
  • The Good lobby Italia 
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Wiretapping and trojans: The Nordio bill alarms journalists

Wiretapping and trojans: The Nordio bill alarms journalists

For the Italian Press National Federation and trade associations, the crackdown on the dissemination of transcripts is a new attack on freedom of the press and citizens’ right to be informed. Even MPs are in turmoil, worried that the “cyber interceptor” – aka trojan – will get out of the hands of its users.

By Paola Rosà

Originally published by OBCT. Also available in ITA

“The regulatory system already provides for a series of filters that do not allow the publication of wiretaps that are not relevant to the investigation, which are appropriately kept in a special archive”: this is what we read in the six pages   of the memorandum that the FNSI (Italian Press National Federation) handed over months ago to the Senate Justice Committee during the fact-finding investigation on the subject of wiretapping. It was April 27th and the public discussion on the topic – a “hot” topic for decades – was centred on the apparently intransigent, but often contradictory position of Minister of Justice Carlo Nordio: for months the former magistrate from the right-wing government party had announced “a profound review of the discipline” on wiretapping as a “deadly instrument of personal and often political delegitimisation” as well as “a barbarism that costs 200 million Euros a year”.

 

The announcements in the press, accompanied by dramatic backtracks on the alleged abolition of wiretaps even in cases of mafia and terrorism (because “mafiosi don’t talk on the phone”), and filled with attacks on the categories of journalists and magistrates, continued until the beginning of August, when the final version of the bill – which does not abolish wiretapping for mafia and terrorism crimes but rather broadens its scope – was approved by the Council of Ministers, thus starting its parliamentary process after the summer break.

 

Already in April however, and then also at the beginning of July during a flashmob   against “the gag of the Nordio bill”, the journalists’ union wanted to remind MPs of their “task of balancing the interests at stake, of finding the right balance between two constitutional principles. The one relating to the right to privacy and the protection of the dignity and honourability of people and the one relating to the right to inform and be informed, the cornerstone of our democratic system as the Constitutional Court has reminded us several times with two twin sentences on article 21 and as the President of the Republic often reminds us”.

 

In fact, what concerns journalists – and what should concern the whole of society considering the role of information in conveying events of general interest – are the new restrictions on the dissemination of wiretaps: the Nordio bill expands the prohibitions already introduced by previous regulations, such as the Orlando reform, and allows wiretaps to be disseminated only if already reproduced by the judge in the motivation and used during the trial.

 

The issue, however, is even more complex and does not only concern the limitation of the instrument and possible further censorship, but at least three scenarios which partly overlap and partly contradict each other: the right of public opinion to know news of general interest, the risk of extending surveillance practices also to subjects not involved in the investigations, and the protection of the privacy of the suspects themselves on personal matters not relating to the investigations.

 

General interest and media excesses

As FNSI general secretary Alessandra Costante reminded the senators speaking in the Justice Commission in April, once again the legislator seems not to take “into consideration the need to publish and disseminate news of general interest which is a value to be protected, such as affirmed by the European Court on several occasions, regardless of the aspects linked to a person’s guilt”.

 

It is true that the reference to the ECHR cannot erase decades of abuse and excesses by the Italian media, which have fed readers and viewers private details that are not relevant for the purposes of the investigation. The fact that the justification for a gag is then built on these excesses seems to be the predictable and much heralded response of the government, which wanted to dedicate the reform to Silvio Berlusconi.

 

But what would have happened if the Nordio bill had been in force, for example, during the investigation into the collapse of the Morandi bridge? Darkness on the managers’ statements regarding the Benetton family. And for the violence in the Verona police station? Video censorship. The concrete examples, illustrated by the FNSI during the flashmob in July, reflect the current reality, whereby according to the code of criminal procedure a copy of the wiretaps, once deposited, can be provided to anyone who is interested, and it is up to the public prosecutor the ensure that no content relating to sensitive personal data is included in the guidelines. The Nordio bill would instead make a clean sweep, eliminating the possibility of publishing the wiretaps if they have not already been reproduced by the judge in the motivation and used in the hearing. Other prohibitions affect the general prosecutor’s office, the judge, and the public prosecutor, who will not be able to report in the minutes or acquire in the excerpt data relating to subjects other than the parties. And this with the understandable aim of protecting “the third party not involved in the proceedings”.

 

The spectre of Trojans and questions from senators

In the Senate Justice Committee on 24 January  , the president of the Lawful Interception association Elio Cattaneo, who defined the wiretapping sector as “excellence in the hi-tech sector of our country”, gave an overview of the professionals involved, speaking of over 1500 employees – just from its trade association which brings together the six main companies in the sector and which covers 75% of the market. The interception activity takes place 95% on behalf of the Prosecutor’s Office and 5% for the secret services. The main field of application is telephone wiretaps (76%), with 15% environmental wiretaps, 5% computer wiretaps, and 3% Trojans. The data, also available on the ministry’s website  , speak of a declining trend, with a peak of 141,169 interceptions in 2013, while the most recent data referring to 2021 reports 95,379 targets, including 72,769 telephone users, 14,606 environmental interceptions, more than 5,000 computer viruses, and 2,896 trojans, the spy virus that transforms the phone into a microphone that is always on.

 

The senators’ attention was focused precisely on computer interceptors or Trojans, software with unknown potential, during two hearings last January: questions, requests for clarifications, worried interventions, starting from the president of the commission herself, Northern League senator and lawyer Giulia Bongiorno. The Trojans, the senators were told, are able to send and receive, without the knowledge of the owner of the cell phone in which they are installed, not only calls, messages, and emails, but also audio recreating the owner’s voice. It can activate the camera, take photos, and create videos, read text messages and MMS, access the content of instant messaging (including chats protected by encryption such as WhatsApp, Signal, and others), GPS (therefore the geolocation of the device), and inspect the contents (therefore see the images, videos, and documents present), including the Internet browsing history.

 

Senators were particularly alarmed when Lelio Della Pietra, a forensic IT consultant, reported a case of “manifest pathologies in the process of acquisition and detention of the sound traces coming from the receiver”. Pathologies which according to the engineer can be cured, and it is “strategic that they be cured as soon as possible, because the credibility of the instrument and all the investigations connected to it is at stake”.

 

The case described by Della Pietra, dating back to 2019, therefore before the entry into force of the Orlando reform which established a general archive of wiretaps, involved a Trojan which records conversations, but not twenty-four hours a day: its first objective is not to be discovered, therefore “it must try to disguise itself, it must not heat up the device, it must not consume too much battery or too much bandwidth”. For this reason, as an “actively piloted device”, it must be programmed via a specific interface.

 

The anomalies described by the engineer refer to recordings without programming, “a bit like when in lawsuits it turns out that the rifle fired on its own: in this case the Trojan allegedly recorded on its own. In 22 cases there were then very long periods (entire nights) in which the Trojan was programmed to receive and absolutely nothing arrived; moreover, one of these periods is precisely the key night of the investigations, in which the receiver stops receiving at 2 am, while scheduled for the entire following day”. And then there are also audios that literally disappeared, even though the recording time is known. “They just disappeared.”

 

Even engineer Paolo Reale, another IT forensic consultant, was equally clear in the hearing   on January 12, hoping that the legislator would find new rules for a new tool like Trojans: “It is clear that that is a completely different tool from the classic telephone interception, with which it has nothing to do; it is an invasive tool that affects practically all aspects of our lives, because today our cell phone contains all information relating to our appointments or our children, so certainly a different regulation would be desirable for this very reason”.

 

Balance between rights and mass surveillance

“On interceptions using wiretaps – said the president of the Guarantor for the protection of personal data, Professor Pasquale Stanzione, called by the senators to express an opinion – the intrusive potential of these tools requires adequate guarantees”. “If made available on the market, even just by mistake, in the absence of the necessary filters to limit their acquisition by third parties, these spy apps would in fact risk turning into dangerous tools of massive surveillance”.

 

Between the risk of mass surveillance and the need to guarantee both privacy and the effectiveness of investigations, the issue of wiretapping involves numerous evolving aspects.

 

“The lighthouse, the line, the main path is the protection of the human person”, added Stanzione, who also recalled European legislation: “We move in a European system which has made personalism the centrality of its legislation. It will be the GDPR, the Digital Services Act, the Artificial Intelligence Act that will move in this perspective (…) because Europe has a middle path precisely towards artificial intelligence, which touches on these enormous profiles of invasion of the intimate sphere of the person. The middle path is neither the unbridled liberalism of the American experience nor the rigid statism, i.e. the Chinese-Korean one, which leaves no room for the fulfillment and free development of the personality, to which our article 2, cited many times, gives guarantee and solid conformation”.

 

Nicola Canestrini, criminal lawyer and media expert, also insists on this constant search for a balance: despite having recently defended journalists who had published wiretaps (see the case of the acquittal of the authors of an investigative book on the discontent within the South Tyrolean majority party), Canestrini does not address the issue with an absolutist approach. On the contrary. As demonstrated by his appeal to the Strasbourg Court against the wiretaps which saw him as a victim, the lawyer is decidedly cautious.

 

In 2021, when he discovered transcripts of his phone calls with his client, Canestrini decided to report this violation of the right to privacy, which had revealed the defence strategy to the public prosecutor. There are at least three occasions in which the lawyer found himself reading excerpts of his conversations with his clients in court documents. Hence the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, in which he contests the mechanism of posthumous verification of compliance with legal limits.

 

Therefore, there is no absolutism when it comes to wiretapping, but certain reference criteria: case by case, situation by situation, there are times to approve their publication and others to ask for confidentiality, times to privilege respect for human dignity and others to privilege the needs of the investigations – in the constant search for a balance between constitutionally guaranteed rights.

This article was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Italy: Support for Roberto Saviano in SLAPP case initiated…

Italy: Support for Roberto Saviano in SLAPP case initiated by Giorgia Meloni

We, the undersigned international media freedom and journalists’ organisations, stand in solidarity with Roberto Saviano as he attended the fourth Court hearing in the SLAPP case initiated by the Prime Minister of Italy on 27 June 2023.

We call on judges to recognise that Saviano has committed no crime and urge Prime Minister Meloni to withdraw her criminal complaint. We further demand that politicians stop abusing the law by initiating strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) against journalists, writers and anyone else exercising their right to free expression. We also call on the Italian Parliament to adopt, without further delay, a comprehensive reform of defamation laws in line with international freedom of expression standards.

 

The lawsuit against Saviano was filed by Giorgia Meloni in November 2021, when she was an MP and prior to becoming Italy’s Prime Minister. The charges of aggravated criminal defamation were brought against Saviano at the behest of Meloni for his critical remarks about Meloni’s long-standing anti-migrant rhetoric which he had expressed during a televised program, Piazza Pulita. Saviano’s remarks followed Piazza Pulita’s coverage of the death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea who was among migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean after Italian authorities delayed their rescue operations.

 

During the fourth hearing at the Criminal Court of Rome, Piazza Pulita anchorman Corrado Formigli and Amnesty International Italia’s spokesperson Riccardo Noury testified in court. Recalling Amnesty’s report which examined hate speech during the 2018 Italian electoral campaign, Noury testified to the role of Meloni in promoting an anti-migrant narrative articulated around hate and xenophobia. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge rejected the request formulated by the defence to audit Meloni. Meloni has not appeared in any of the four Court hearings held to date, despite having initiated legal action against Saviano for aggravated criminal defamation claiming his remarks had damaged her honour and reputation. The judge scheduled the next hearing for October 12, 2023, when a first instance sentence is expected to be issued.

 

Article 595 of the Italian criminal code provides for prison sentences of up to three years for criminal defamation. This law threatens freedom of expression, a fundamental right protected by the Italian Constitution and international law, and hinders journalists and writers from expressing their opinions on matters of public interest. In a democratic society, it is unacceptable for a criminal defamation lawsuit to be used as a weapon to silence critical voices.

 

Under international freedom of expression standards, the right to freedom of expression encompasses the freedom to express opinions and ideas that may be considered offensive, shocking, or disturbing. Moreover, the ECtHR and domestic courts have clarified that public figures, especially those in political roles, should expect a higher degree of criticism and scrutiny due to their prominent position in society. Criminal prosecution of critics in such cases is deemed to infringe the right to freedom of expression as outlined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

 

The escalating occurrence of vexatious lawsuits targeting journalists in Italy is deeply concerning. Members of the current government are increasingly abusing the law against individuals who express dissenting views. This shows that press freedom and civic space in Italy is shrinking, with dangerous implications for Italy’s democracy.

 

We acknowledge that a number of bills directed at reforming defamation provisions are currently being discussed by the Italian parliament. We are particularly concerned as the proposed provisions violate international standards on freedom of expression and Article 10 of the ECHR as they substantially increase fines for criminal defamation and impose additional penalties of disqualification from practising the journalistic profession. As the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly stated, criminal defamation sanctions have a serious chilling effect on freedom of expression.

 

Comprehensive reforms of defamation laws in Italy must be aligned with international freedom of expression standards and should focus on decriminalising defamation and establishing reasonable limits on damages within civil law to protect press freedom, free expression, and the public’s right to know. Italy should also support the strongest set of anti-SLAPP protections in the forthcoming negotiations over the EU anti-SLAPP Directive.

 

Our organisations will keep monitoring the current defamation proceedings against Roberto Saviano and will respond to any additional threats to media freedom in Italy.

Signed by:

  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Index on Censorship
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • Justice for Journalists Foundation (JFJ)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation
  • Blueprint for Free Speech
  • Meglio Legale
  • The Good Lobby
  • PEN International

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Italy: International Media freedom groups raise alarm about RAI’s…

Italy: International Media freedom groups raise alarm about RAI’s independence

Following the recent resignation of the CEO and other major politically-influenced internal management changes at Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI), the Italian public service broadcaster, the MFRR partners express growing alarm about threats to the editorial independence of the broadcaster.

Following the recent resignation of the CEO and other major politically-influenced internal management changes at Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI), the Italian public service broadcaster, the undersigned media freedom and journalist organisations today express growing alarm about threats to the editorial independence of the broadcaster. We call on the parliament to initiate a debate aimed at reforming the governance and funding system of RAI and safeguarding its independence.

 

On May 8, 2023, Carlo Fuortes announced his resignation from the post of CEO of RAI, citing political pressure. The high-profile resignation came amidst reports of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Fuortes and the cabinet involving his appointment as the director of a Napolitan theatre. Within this context, the government issued a decree law which forces the former theatre director into premature retirement

 

On May 15, Roberto Sergio was appointed as the new CEO of RAI, who swiftly announced the need for “new storytelling” by the broadcaster in a letter to its employees. This was followed by the change, with a minority vote, of five out of the eight RAI channels’ editors-in-chief. We believe these developments put RAI’s editorial independence at serious risk. Sergio’s reference sets the tone for broadcasting programming conformed with the ruling coalition’s agenda. As concerns other management changes, we believe that also the appointment of Giampaolo Rossi as RAI’s new Corporate General Manager is particularly worrying, given his controversial public stances, and risks exacerbating the polarisation of Italian public opinion.

 

Currently, the Italian broadcasting service’s governance is heavily affected by RAI’s Board appointment mechanism, which testifies to its lack of independence from the executive. Of a total seven Board members, one is elected by RAI employees, and two each by the government, the chamber of representatives and the senate. Following the codification of this appointment mechanism in 2004 (law 111/2004), amended in 2016 (law 220/2015), the composition of the board has reflected cyclical waves of politically-motivated interference in RAI’s governance following elections. As stated in the Council of Europe’s 2012 Recommendation: “without demonstrable independence of action and initiative, from government as well as from any other vested interest or institution, public service media organisations cannot sustain their credibility”. Public broadcasting in the hands of any political forces is not at the service of the public interest, but a tool in their hands which threatens media integrity, an essential condition for the functioning of our democratic societies.

 

A further source of concern is the bill proposal recently presented by Lega Senator Mara Bizzotto. Part of the government’s coalition, Lega’s proposed amendments threaten to shrink even further the financial autonomy of the Italian broadcasting service. Currently, RAI is funded by citizens through a licence fee plus advertisement. According to Lega’s reform, public broadcasting funding would be subjected to a yearly determination via the Budget Law. While such a legislative amendment might face opposition within the governing coalition, we are nonetheless concerned by Lega’s proposal, which, if passed, would seriously reduce the broadcaster’s financial independence.

 

Under European freedom of expression standards, RAI as a public service broadcaster should enjoy operational and administrative autonomy from any other person or entity, including the government and any of its agencies. This autonomy shall be respected at all times. The Italian Constitutional Court had made its position clear, arguing that public service broadcasting is to be intended as a “social service” which must “offer the public a range of services characterised by objectivity and completeness of information”, a condition which can be fulfilled by granting adequate powers of oversight to the Parliament (Constitutional Court rulings 94/1987 and 69/2009). 

 

Joining the dissent expressed by both Italian and European journalists’ associations and unions, the undersigned organisations call on the Italian parliament to initiate a comprehensive reform of the legislation regulating Italian public broadcasters.We urge Italy to bring forward legislation directed to protect public service media from undue interference and guarantee its funding. Such a reform should allow RAI to operate in a sustainable governance framework, with reliable and adequate funding, securing both its editorial independence and public accountability, as recommended by the proposal for the European Media Freedom Act.

Signed by:

  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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