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Italy: Prime Minister sues Domani newspaper for defamation

Italy: Prime Minister sues Domani newspaper for defamation

Italian defamation laws are once again being misused by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to silence and threaten independent journalism in Italy. The undersigned organisations call for the lawsuit against the newspaper Domani to be dropped and for the Italian Parliament to adopt a comprehensive reform of defamation laws in Italy.

In October 2021, the current Prime Minister, at the time member of the Italian Parliament and leader of the far-right party Fratelli d’Italia,  initiated legal action for aggravated criminal defamation against Emiliano Fittipaldi and Stefano Feltri, respectively correspondent and editor of the daily national newspaper Domani. The lawsuit originated from an article that raised questions over an obscure procurement process of face masks during the first waves of the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, the article was investigating the alleged role Meloni played in influencing Domenico Arcuri, then Covid Commissioner, by recommending certain suppliers for medical equipment intended for the Italian healthcare system. According to the authors of the article, her interference in the process consisted of endorsing Fabio Pietrella, a businessperson and newly elected Fratelli d’Italia member of the Parliament, for the procured services. 

Prime Minister Meloni is requesting damages with an interim compensation of 25,000 euros from the newspaper. After a preliminary hearing, which took place on 15 November, the public prosecutor decided to open a criminal defamation trial, which is due to begin on 10 July, 2024.

Our organisations have consistently advocated for a reform of both civil and criminal defamation laws in Italy to bring legislation in line with international freedom of expression standards and the recent Constitutional Court rulings. In its 2020 and 2021 decisions, the court urged the Parliament to enact a comprehensive reform of defamation laws in Italy. As of today, the Parliament has failed to respond to such calls.

In April 2022, the European Commission put forward a Directive proposal that would prompt EU member states to take action to counter Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) in civil law cases for matters with trans-border application. The proposal on SLAPPs is expected to be adopted in 2023 after discussion and a vote by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. Alongside the directive proposal, the European Commission has formulated a set of Recommendations identifying a number of measures meant to counter both vexatious criminal and civil lawsuits. Furthermore, according to international and European human rights law, top public officials should tolerate a higher degree of scrutiny and criticism than others, in light of the public position they hold. 

Our organisations acknowledge with growing concern the rising number of SLAPP cases against journalists brought by public officials in Italy against those who express dissent or inform the public on contentious issues, question their work or, as in the present case, expose alleged wrongdoing. 

We call on Prime Minister Meloni to withdraw the defamation lawsuit against Italian newspaper Domani and to initiate a reform process of defamation laws in the country to avoid the abuse of vexatious lawsuits against the public interest. We also call on the Italian Parliament to begin comprehensive reform of defamation laws in line with international freedom of expression standards as soon as possible. Such reform should centre on the decriminalisation of defamation and set limits within civil law on the amount in damages that can be sought to avoid creating undue obstacles to the journalistic profession. 

Furthermore, this reform should address specific challenges posed by SLAPPs against journalists within the Italian framework. While the Italian Civil Procedural Code includes some provisions aimed at countering SLAPPs – article 96 provides that those plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit in ‘bad faith’ must compensate the defendant – judges rarely recur to this provision in practice. Within this context, we also urge the Parliament to start a discussion to follow up on the Recommendations included in the EU Anti-SLAPPs initiative and to support the adoption of an advanced text of the EU Anti-SLAPPs Directive.  

An Anti-SLAPPs Working Group in Italy, part of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), brings together representatives of the world of journalism and civil society in Italy to raise awareness about SLAPPs and sustain advocacy towards a set of measures that would effectively counter them.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe 
  • Articolo 21 
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • International Press Institute (IPI) 
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT) 
  • The Good Lobby Italia

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: a call of support for Roberto Saviano, defendant…

Italy: a call of support for Roberto Saviano, defendant in a defamation trial

Members of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), with the support of the coalition’s Italian group and Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), express solidarity with Roberto Saviano who attended the first hearing in the proceedings for aggravated defamation initiated against him by current Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

We are seriously concerned about the criminal proceedings initiated in 2021 by the current Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Fratelli d’Italia. Under the current provisions on defamation, Roberto Saviano risks imprisonment for his criticism of Meloni during a TV programme.

 

Such accusations act as a gag on freedom of expression, a fundamental right enshrined in the Italian Constitution and international law. No journalist or writer should be prosecuted for expressing their honest opinion on issues of public interest. A criminal defamation suit is not an acceptable response in a democracy, all the more so when it comes from a high ranking representative of the institution. This threat to Saviano reveals, once again, the degree of the abuse of defamation suits or SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) in Italy.

 

The lawsuit for aggravated defamation was initiated by current Prime Minister Meloni in November 2021, in response to comments made by Roberto Saviano during the episode of the TV programme Piazza Pulita which aired on 3rd December 2020. Saviano’s comment was formulated in response to the controversial rhetoric employed in recent years by the two political leaders to describe the migration emergency in the Mediterranean.

 

In November 2020, the NGO ship Open Arms rescued a number of displaced individuals from a shipwreck, caused by a collapsing dinghy in the Mediterranean Sea. The delayed rescue by the Italian authorities had prevented timely assistance to the survivors who were in dire need of specialist medical care, including a six-month-old infant who later died on the Open Arms. Following Piazza Pulita’s coverage of the investigation on the authorities’ delayed response, Roberto Saviano had referred to both Meloni, the then leader of Fratelli d’Italia and the Lega secretary, Matteo Salvini as ‘bastards’.

 

The possibility that Roberto Saviano, in his role as a writer and journalist, could incur a prison sentence for expressing his opinion on a politically sensitive issue, such as the treatment of migrants in Italy, once again draws attention to the serious inadequacies of Italian libel laws. The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 21 of the Italian Constitution. Furthermore, international law and jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) guarantees that the right to freedom of expression extends to statements and ideas that may ‘offend, shock or disturb’ and that opinions are entitled to enhanced protection under the guarantee of the right to freedom of expression. Further, the ECtHR has clarified that public figures and, in particular, political actors must tolerate higher levels of criticism and scrutiny given their public position within society, and that in such cases criminal prosecution has a chilling effect and is violating the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 10 ECHR.

 

Those who express their opinion on matters of public interest should not fear nor be exposed to intimidation, conviction, or imprisonment. On this last point, the Italian Constitutional Court has made its position clear, urging lawmakers to initiate a general reform of the legislation on defamation that would bring Italian legislation in line with the standards of European and international law. With the ruling of 9 June 2020 and the decision of 22 June 2021, the Court, in line with previous judgments of the ECtHR, declared prison sentences in cases of defamation in the press unconstitutional. However, the provision of prison sentences remains in place for cases of ‘exceptional gravity’. In accordance with such provisions, Saviano still faces a custodial sentence because the formal charge is aggravated defamation.

 

At the conclusion of the first hearing at the Criminal Court of Rome on 15 November 2022, it was decided that the trial will be re-assigned to a new judge and adjourned to 12 December. The current Minister of Infrastructure, Matteo Salvini, has filed a petition to become a civil plaintiff. The Lega leader has also a pending defamation lawsuit initiated against Roberto Saviano in 2018: its first hearing is scheduled for 1 February 2023. Further, on 28 January 2023 another defamation trial instigated by Gennaro Sangiuliano, current Minister of Culture, awaits Roberto Saviano.

 

At the end of the first hearing in the Meloni case on 15th November, Saviano reiterated the central role that writers play in a democratic society: “My tools are words. I try, with the word, to persuade, to convince, to activate”. Exiting the courtroom, he argued that: “Democracy is based not only on a consensus that can lead to winning the electoral lottery, but exists if dissent and criticism are allowed. Without such premises there is no democratic oxygen”.

 

The perilous situation in which Roberto Saviano finds himself must also be taken into account. Life under escort, already a cause of marginalisation for journalists, was only necessary due to threats made against Saviano by organised crime and these threats should not be amplified through further threats made by high ranking politicians.

 

Joining the dissent expressed by Italian and European journalists’ associations, the undersigned organisations call on Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to immediately withdraw the charges against Roberto Saviano. We support the recommendation formulated by Italian and European civil society and international organisations to the new parliament to act against vexatious complaints and to quickly adopt a comprehensive reform of both civil and criminal defamation laws in Italy. Finally, we urge Italy to bring forward legislation to tackle the use of SLAPPs in line with the EU Anti-SLAPP Recommendation of 27 April 2022. The Italian Government is also urged to give its full support to the Anti-SLAPP Directive as proposed by the European Commission.

Signed by:

  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT) 
  • aditus foundation 
  • Access Info Europe 
  • ARTICLE 19  
  • Articolo21 
  • Blueprint for Free Speech 
  • Center for Spatial Justice 
  • Civic Initiatives 
  • Civil Liberties Union For Europe 
  • Ecojustice Ireland  
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) 
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • Global Witness 
  • Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights 
  • IFEX 
  • Index on Censorship 
  • International Press Institute 
  • Irish PEN/ PEN na hÉireann 
  • Justice for Journalists Foundation 
  • Justice & Environment 
  • Legal Human Academy 
  • Libera Informazione 
  • PEN International 
  • Presseclub Concordia 
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 
  • Solomon 
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation 
  • Whistleblowing International Network

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.

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New Italian government under Georgia Meloni makes international observers and watchdogs question her position on freedom of the press. Allgemein

Italy: Journalists brace for impact as Giorgia Meloni’s new…

Italy: Journalists brace for impact as Giorgia Meloni’s new government begins

Questions over how new administration will handle press freedom challenges

By IPI contributor Christian Elia

“On World Press Freedom Day my thanks go to the many journalists who fight for the truth. We will always be at their side against all forms of censorship and imposition of the single thought.” 

 

With these words Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Fratelli d’Italia party, commented on the anniversary of 3 May earlier this year.

Now, after Meloni was sworn in as prime minister of a hard-right government on October 23, international observers are questioning the position of Meloni and the main supporters of her party on freedom of the press and pondering how the administration will address the many challenges facing the country’s journalists.

The coalition government, in addition to Fratelli d’Italia, includes the Lega, led by Matteo Salvini, and Forza Italia, led by Silvio Berlusconi – figures with a problematic track record on media freedom.

With major European Union initiatives to safeguard media independence and pluralism on the horizon, and major reform initiatives within the country stalled, questions also emerge over how the new administration will handle more systemic changes to the legislative and media landscapes.

 

European inspirations

Meloni’s first international outing after the elections, with a speech at the VOX party meeting in Spain, caused much concern in the media world.

In front of an audience that had heard messages from former U.S. President Donald Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Meloni reiterated how Poland and Hungary are models of government for her, glossing over the fact that both governments are currently facing sanctions proceedings under Article 7 of the EU Treaty for breaches of fundamental values.

Meloni has not only defended Hungary and Poland when she was in opposition, but also reiterated this approach as soon as she won the elections. Press freedom in both countries remains under serious pressure. There are major questions about how far she will take inspiration in governing from these ideological allies, and how far she will support them in democratic forums.

In general, looking at Meloni’s rhetoric, it seems clear that she is now trying to present herself as a moderate leader. However, she remains president of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a pan-European umbrella party that includes the ruling party in Poland as well as increasingly influential far-right parties in countries such as Spain and Sweden.

In the past, Meloni has also spread and supported conspiracy theories on her social media channels, such as ethnic replacement by migrants and disinformation about vaccines. Unlike other far-right leaders in Europe, however, she has not publicly made hostile comments against journalists or the press in general. Under increased scrutiny and critical reporting from the media, this may yet change.

Her government’s approach to EU efforts to strengthen media freedom and pluralism will be another key issue. To date, she has never taken a position on the European Commission’s Media Freedom Act (EMFA) or other press freedom legislation. Only her actions in government will clarify her positions in Italy and Europe on these issues.

Another major issue on the agenda regarding media will be reform of the country’s penal code regarding “defamation through the press”, which can currently be punished with prison sentences from six months to three years. In the past two years, the Constitutional Court has urged lawmakers to initiate a comprehensive reform of defamation provisions and ruled that incarceration in such cases is unconstitutional. Until now, however, parliament has dragged its feet. Observers are concerned the new government appears unlikely to push forward the reform process.

 

Party problems

Meloni, while always defending her staunchest supporters, has been very careful not to attack freedom of the press directly, taking a cautious stance on the issue of journalists’ work, but not failing to emphasise that in her opinion there is a widespread desire to damage Fratelli d’Italia politically.

What is certain, however, is the attitude of many supporters of her party towards the press. Recent incidents of physical or verbal aggression against journalists can be traced back to extreme right-wing militants, however not directly linked to the Fratelli d’Italia party

The most notorious cases are those of journalist Federico Gervasoni, of the daily newspaper La Stampa, who was threatened with death on social networks for having carried out an investigation into the neo-fascist organisation Avanguardia Nazionale, where some current members of Fratelli d’Italia have operated in the past.

Then there is the case of the journalist Federico Marconi and the photographer Paolo Marchetti, of the weekly magazine L’Espresso, who were physically assaulted for filming during the commemoration by a group of neo-fascists of three right-wing militants murdered in the 1970s. For this attack, exponents of Forza Nuova, an organisation that supported Meloni for a period, were prosecuted by the Italian justice system, but has now distanced itself from her.

The latest episode is the persistent threats against Repubblica journalist Paolo Berizzi, known for his investigations into Italian neo-fascism.

Leading journalist unions and organisations – Ordine dei Giornalisti and the Federazione Nazionale della Stampa Italiana – have called for intervention by the political class in these cases.

Meloni and the party leaders immediately distanced themselves publicly and expressed solidarity with the affected journalists, but never definitively ended relations with the most radical part of her supporters.

 

Journalists’ safety

In recent years the Italian state has become a model with regard to the protection of journalists threatened by the mafia. Roberto Saviano is the best-known symbol of many journalists who have enjoyed not only physical protection,  but also the support of civil society through awareness-raising campaigns.

Another major source of physical attacks and threats over the past 10 years, according to the Italian Order of Journalists, has been politically motivated attacks on the press from groups associated with the far and extreme right.

In order to guarantee the work of journalists and freedom of the press, press freedom groups have stressed that it is necessary for these attacks to not only be punished by the judiciary, but also to be recognised as systematic attacks, so that the Ministry of the Interior and the police, who must protect journalists during these public events and in general, are constantly vigilant.

Whether the new occupants of the Ministry of Interior will continue the important work laid down by previous administrations will be vital for the safety of journalists in Italy moving forward.

 

Media ownership

With respect to the concentration of media ownership, currently Meloni’s leadership team in Fratelli d’Italia does not represent any particular editorial interests.

However, the former deputy Guido Crosetto, an executive of the company Federazione Aziende Italiane per l’Aerospazio, la Difesa e la Sicurezza (AIAD), linked to Confindustria (the trade representation of Italian industrialists), is the one Meloni will be counting on to obtain the support of industrial groups with interests in the media, which until now have never explicitly supported Meloni in her political rise. Crosetto was appointed Minister of Defence in the Meloni government.

Ever since Silvio Berlusconi entered politics in the 1990s, the problem of media freedom arose because the leader of Forza Italia could count on control of important Italian media. Since then, many things have changed and Berlusconi has reduced his role in media, selling the newspaper Il Giornale and negotiating the sale of the Mediaset TV networks.

Today, in the absence yet of a definitive law on the control of the media by politicians, which even the Democratic Party has never achieved, Guido Crosetto seems to be the mediator between the industrial groups and the media they control.

Until now, Giorgia Meloni, as former leader of the opposition and as party leader, has never expressed any particular indications with respect to a whole series of Italian and international regulations on the subject of freedom of the press. Generally, Meloni has preferred communication linked to social networks over mainstream media.

As the new government takes the reins, many of these questions will become apparent. Until then, journalists are preparing for a bumpy ride.

This article is part of IPI’s reporting series “Media freedom in Europe in the shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondents throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. This reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and by the European Commisson (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

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Italy: Concern about prosecutor’s demand for prison sentence for…

Italy: Concern about prosecutor’s demand for prison sentence for three journalists in response to their factual reporting

The undersigned media freedom and journalist associations today express shared concern over an Italian prosecutor’s request for a six-month prison sentence in a case of defamation through the press involving three journalists.

The lawsuit had been filed in response to their reporting on a labour lawsuit associated with a former minister. Prison sentences in cases of defamation through the press have been declared unconstitutional by the Italian Constitutional Court in 2021, except for cases of exceptional gravity. No journalist should face nor fear prison sentences for having published factual information in the public interest.

 

The lawsuit against the three journalists was initiated in 2014 by Teresa Bellanova, current president of political party Italia Viva who at the time was undersecretary of the Ministry of Labour. The three journalists – Mary Tota from Il Fatto Quotidiano, Danilo Lupo from La7 and Francesca Pizzolante from Il Tempo – were sued for criminal defamation through the press by Bellanova in 2014, for their respective reporting about a labour lawsuit that had been filed against her by a former press officer.

 

In response to the lawsuit she received, Bellanova initially accused the press officer and the three journalists of complicity in attempted extortion, a charge which was later downgraded to defamation through the press for the journalists. More than eight years later, the defamation trial against the members of the press is not over. 

 

In the latest hearing on 17 October, prosecutor Antonio Zito requested a six months’ prison sentence for each of the three journalists. Their reporting at the time was simply about the filing of the lawsuit and the allegations made, which have since been confirmed by the Lecce Court of Appeal. The next hearing is scheduled for 14 November 2022, when, following the rebuttal of the journalists’ lawyer Roberto Eustachio Sisto, judge Michele Guarini will issue his decision.

 

The prospect of having to face a prison sentence together with the protracted nature of this lawsuit has inevitably resulted in a chilling effect: this is what has been reported by journalist Danilo Lupo, who admitted that he has been refraining from reporting on any issues related to Bellanova over the past eight years.

 

The case of the three journalists facing prison sentences draws once more attention to the severe deficiencies in Italy’s defamation laws. According to the Italian criminal code, defamation through the press can be punished with prison sentences from six months to three years. However, in the past two years, the Constitutional Court had made public its position by urging lawmakers to initiate a comprehensive reform of defamation provisions and ruling that incarceration in such cases is unconstitutional and should be envisioned exclusively in criminal defamation cases of “exceptional severity”. 

 

Joining the dissent expressed by Italian journalists organisations, the undersigned media freedom and journalist associations urge the competent authorities to immediately drop  their demand for prison sentences for the journalists in the Bellanova case, in line with the pronouncements of the Constitutional Court. We also urge the new parliament to swiftly enact a comprehensive reform of both civil and criminal defamation laws in Italy and emphasise the need to meet European freedom of expression standards. We will continue to monitor the unfolding of the legal proceedings of the Lecce court and call on relevant authorities to react to the case. 

Signed by:

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

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.

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Call for Italian political forces to take a stand…

Call for Italian political forces to take a stand against SLAPPs

A group of media freedom and journalists’ organisations have published a statement outlining a list of measures that must be adopted in order to protect victims of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) in Italy.

The right of citizens to be informed about matters of public interest and of journalists to write freely about them cannot and must not be hindered by SLAPPs. Civil society’s appeal to the future parliament to promote measures to contrast strategic lawsuits

 

SLAPPs (Strategic lawsuits against public participation) aim at silencing journalists, activists, whistleblowers, and anyone who sheds light on matters of public interest. SLAPPs are a true violation of the right of citizens to be informed and freedom of expression. SLAPPs also pose serious restrictions on democratic participation as they deprive the public debate of voices reporting on issues of public interest. The explicit goal of those who carry out legal actions against journalists and activists dealing with e.g. corruption, abuse of power, and environmental issues is to silence them – a threat to freedom of expression and the right to report.

 

The use of SLAPPs is widespread in Italy. The legal tool most commonly employed to instigate SLAPP cases is defamation, both civil and criminal. However, the right to privacy and the right to be forgotten are also misused to prevent the disclosure of inconvenient information. Often, legal threats even precede the publication of the investigation, triggering mechanisms of self-censorship.

 

The Italian Parliament has already been urged to abide by the recent Constitutional Court rulings on the issue of defamation. The Court, in fact, intervened with a decision in 2020 and a ruling in 2021 on the issue of the constitutionality of prison sentences for journalists in cases of press defamation, calling on the Parliament to remove the rules that provide for incarceration – except for cases of ‘exceptional gravity’ – and to promote a wide-ranging reform of the relevant legislation. Such a reform, which has remained stagnant and obstructed in previous legislatures, is necessary in order to hopefully reach an “effective balance between freedom of expression and the protection of reputation”, as the Court emphasised in 2021.

 

At the European level, last April the European Commission presented its response to the problem by drafting a two-pronged document: a directive on transnational cases, which will now have to follow its approval process between the EU Council and the European Parliament, and a recommendation with immediate but non-binding effect, which gathers precise indications to be applied in national cases. This was possible also thanks to an intense mobilisation of the Coalition against SLAPP in Europe (CASE), which gathers more than 40 European civil society organisations committed to combating SLAPPs.

 

European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova calls the directive under discussion “Daphne’s law”, to remember Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed in 2017 while being targeted with several legal proceedings, and whose tragic story helped to raise attention to the issue. The presentation of the proposal at European level was celebrated as a moment of historic significance, an achievement unthinkable until a few years ago.

 

This heritage must not be lost.

 

The European initiative should propel the urgent adoption of measures to protect SLAPP victims in Italy as well. Now it is up to the next Italian Parliament and Government to do their part. In view of the vote on 25 September, the signatories of this appeal ask all the candidates in the forthcoming elections and the political forces for a public commitment to support during the next legislature, in the European and national fora, the adoption of measures, within and beyond the legislative realm, to counter SLAPP.

 

Specifically, we call for:

 

  • the introduction of the issue of SLAPP as a priority on the Italian political agenda;
  • the launch of a comprehensive legal reform on defamation, both criminal and civil, in line with recent Constitutional Court rulings and the standards of international law on freedom of expression;
  • the introduction of a procedure for the timely dismissal of legal actions classifiable as SLAPP;
  •  the establishment of punitive and deterrent sanctions for SLAPP perpetrators;
  • the systematic and independent data collection and monitoring of intimidating legal acts by institutions in cooperation with civil society;
  • the continuation of the parliamentary intergroup dealing with information, media, and journalism and the effective engagement of its members in combating SLAPPs;
  • the implementation without delay of the guidelines contained in the European Recommendation for national cases;
  • the support, in the European fora, of the proposed anti-SLAPP Directive presented by the European Commission on 27 April 2022.

 

Thanks to an active network throughout Europe, civil society has made a fundamental contribution in formulating responses to prevent reckless lawsuits from restricting free expression, participation, and democracy. We will continue to advocate for the proposed measures to be adopted.

 

The appeal is open to all organisations and individuals who share these demands. List constantly being updated here.

Signed by:

  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa

 

  • Articolo 21

  • Transparency International Italia

  • Article 19 Europe

  • Environmental Paper Network

  • Greenpeace Italia

  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

  • International Press Institute (IPI)

  • Festival dei Diritti Umani

  • Associazione Italiana Medici per l’Ambiente (ISDE)

  • info.nodes

  • Lega Italiana Antivivisezione (LAV)

  • Parliament Watch Italia

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.

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Rai 3 Library

Italy: Concern after authorities search Rai 3 editorial office…

Italy: Concern after authorities search Rai 3 editorial office and home of journalist

The partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express serious concern over the searches carried out by police at the offices of Rai 3’s investigative programme ‘Report’ and the home of investigative journalist Paolo Mondani. We urge the Italian Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (DIA) to provide assurances that the confidentiality of journalists’ sources will not be jeopardised and to reaffirm its respect for the principles of press freedom.

The MFRR joins the Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana, the Unione Sindacale Giornalisti Rai and the Ordine Dei Giornalisti in raising alarm about the heavy-handed actions of the DIA and the Guardia di Finanza on May 24, which led to searches of Report’s journalist’s computers and mobile phones. These searches at Rai’s offices and the home of a journalist raise serious questions about the protection of journalistic freedoms.

 

While the decision by the Caltanissetta District Anti-Mafia Directorate to revoke the search order is welcomed, we are concerned this incident is another example of the lack of respect for journalistic source confidentiality by state authorities in Italy, a right which is protected under both domestic law and reiterated by the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

 

The raids came one day after Report broadcasted a show prepared by Mondani entitled “The Black Beast”, which was shown to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the 1992 Capaci bombing which killed renowned anti-mafia judge and prosecuting magistrate Giovanni Falcone, together with his wife and three policemen of his security detail. It examined the murder and revealed “forgotten documents” about possible links between the extreme right and the mafia in carrying out the assassination.

 

The new information related to the presence of a neo-fascist leader along with mafia bosses near the scene of the attack a few months before the crime was committed. The report suggested several mafia members had revealed to investigators the relationship between the leader of the Avanguardia Nazionale, an Italian neo-Nazi group, and the mafia, but their testimonies were never properly investigated.

 

The early morning searches by DIA agents were conducted as part of a wider investigation into the source of a leak of information to the media about prosecutors’ investigations into the Capaci massacre. Explaining its decision, the Caltanissetta Prosecutor’s Office rejected claims that testimonies were not properly investigated and said the searches were related to a “leak of judicial information” and verifying “the authenticity of the sources”.

 

While our organisations recognise the work of the DIA and all state authorities in bringing those responsible for historic mafia-related killings to justice, in this case the rush to identify the source of a leak of information was disproportionate and clearly infringed on the right to confidentiality of Mondani’s sources. The team at ‘Report have since confirmed they would have cooperated willingly with authorities.

 

The implications of these searches are serious. The protection of journalists’ sources and of whistleblowers is one of the basic conditions for press freedom and must be treated with the utmost caution. The potential violation of these principles in this case will have a detrimental effect on the willingness of sources to come forward and assist the press in fulfilling its watchdog role.

 

In this case, the actions taken against a well-known and professional investigative journalism programme such as Report also creates a chilling effect on the wider Italian journalistic community, especially among those investigating crime and corruption linked to the mafia. It is clear the initial permission to conduct the search by the Caltanissetta Prosecutor’s Office in Sicily was granted without consideration for these principles.

 

Moving forward, our organisations urge the DIA and the Guardia di Finanza to provide guarantees about the respect for journalistic source confidentiality and issue a formal apology to Rai 3, Report and Paolo Mondani. Recognition of the detrimental impact this type of searches can have on sources’ protection and public interest journalism is crucial for ensuring the trust of journalists in law enforcement authorities.

 

At the wider level, a robust and comprehensive framework for sources’ protection should be a priority of the Italian government and parliament in their mandate to improve the landscape for press freedom. We will continue to monitor the situation and look forward to seeing the response of the competent authorities.

Signed by:

ARTICLE 19 Europe

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, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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MFRR Italy Mission Library

Who is afraid of journalists? The MFRR Italy Mission…

Who is afraid of journalists? The MFRR Italy Mission Report

On 11 May, partners of the MFRR launched the report of its fact-finding mission to Italy during a live event with journalists and media freedom stakeholders.

From 4 to 6 April 2022, a delegation of the MFRR was in Italy for a fact-finding mission focused on two main topics: defamation and future legislative developments against SLAPPs on one side and the safety of journalists and State protection measures on the other. In 3 days there were 8 meetings in 2 regions (Rome and Campania), with 11 MFRR participants.

The fact-finding mission provided the MFRR with an opportunity to assess the legislative delays that are preventing Parliament from responding to the repeated calls of the Constitutional Court in reforming defamation laws, and to get to know the coordinated State monitoring and protection system implemented in Italy for intimidation acts against journalists, a good practice mentioned in a recent Recommendation of the European Commission.

This mission 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 hold press freedom mission to Italy

MFRR to hold press freedom mission to Italy

From 4 to 6 April, representatives of all partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) will be in Italy for a fact-finding mission focused on two main topics: safety of journalists and state protection measures on one side, and SLAPPs against journalists and the need for comprehensive legislative reforms of the framework of defamation and media freedom on the other. 

In collaboration with local partners, including the Italian National Federation of Journalists (FNSI), the journalists’ association Articolo 21 and the Chamber of Journalists, the MFRR delegation will address these issues from different perspectives and with a variety of stakeholders.

The Italian media freedom landscape is full of contrasts and contradictions, and the mission will explore lights and shadows of the situation of media freedom in the country.

As documented on Mapping Media Freedom, the safety of journalists is at risk more than ever across the EU member states and candidate countries. At the same time, the Italian State coordination system that monitors intimidation against journalists and decides on their protection measures is one of the good practices highlighted in the European Commission’s Recommendation on the Safety of Journalists. During the mission, the MFRR delegation will meet Ministry of the Interior officials engaged in analysing threats and protecting journalists. An official hearing is also scheduled at the Parliamentary Inquiry Anti-Mafia Commission to exchange views with Members of Parliament of the Subcommittee on Mafia, journalists and media. The delegation will also meet with journalists under threat in Campania, a region with a worryingly high number of reporters under police protection. This visit also serves the purpose of showing solidarity with a neglected area in Italy, where media, institutions and citizens are under pressure from organised crime and where local journalism is a bulwark of resistance and civil engagement.

The mission will also follow up on the two Constitutional Court decisions concerning the abolition of prison sentences for convictions of defamation through the press: both in 2020 and 2021, the Court invited the Parliament to legislate and find a balance between freedom of expression and the right to defend one’s reputation. This invitation has, however, not been actioned yet by Parliament. By meeting the judge rapporteur who wrote the decisions and Members of Parliament, the MFRR delegation will investigate why this is the case and what steps are planned towards realising such reform.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) will be the focus of a closed event hosted by the FNSI with journalists, lawyers, members of the union and journalists’ associations. With these stakeholders, the MFRR will discuss the impact of abusive lawsuits on the everyday activity of a reporter in Italy and upcoming legislative and policy measures that are being designed by the European Commission to tackle the problem.

Lastly, media capture will feature centrally in a discussion hosted by the Chamber of Journalists, where the MFRR delegates will hear critical cases related to low wages and other problematic labour conditions faced by journalists, and media capture. This meeting will also represent an opportunity to showcase initiatives that support freelance journalists and video reporters.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • 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 mission 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: Journalists face fresh violence covering ‘green pass’ protests

Italy: Journalists face fresh violence covering ‘green pass’ protests

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) are highly concerned about yet another series of violent attacks and threats to journalists and media workers covering protests against the government’s pandemic-related measures across Italy.

Several incidents of hostility and violence towards media were reported in Rome on 9 October, when journalists and photojournalists were attacked while reporting on a protest by anti-vaccine and far-right groups against government measures to require all workers to carry the EU Digital COVID Certificate.

Photojournalist Francesco Cocco, a contributor to daily newspaper Il Foglio, said he was deliberately kicked in the groin and injured by a uniformed police officer while documenting the street protest near via Largo Chigi in the capital. Video footage captures Cocco being hit off-camera and dropping to the floor, almost dropping the equipment.

That same afternoon, Flavia Amabile, a journalist with daily newspaper La Stampa, was hit with batons by police while covering the protest near the Piazza del Popolo. First, a police officer in riot gear hit her and another photojournalist with a truncheon despite being made aware they were journalists. In a second incident, Amabile was amidst a group of protesters filming on her mobile phone when the police moved forward and began hitting people violently with truncheons.

On the same day, la Repubblica photojournalist Alessandro Serranò was also attacked with a shovel by a protester who had broken into a construction site and armed himself. Video footage shows Serranò holding a makeshift shield as a man violently swings the shovel at him. He was taken to the emergency room with minor injuries. Journalist Sara Giudice and colleagues from La7 Piazzapulita were also attacked by protesters. Police confirmed that a 52-year-old man was charged with causing aggravated injuries. A trial hearing is set for 10 December.

Two days later, on 11 October, a crew from the public broadcaster Tgr Rai in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia was threatened and had their equipment damaged as they were covering anti-green-pass protests near the port in Trieste. Journalist Alessandra Zigaina had a microphone snatched out of her hand and thrown away into the crowd. A camera was also ripped out of the operator’s hand and dropped. The crew were also pushed and insulted. During the protest march, the demonstrators stopped outside the Rai headquarters to chant anti-media slogans and shout insults.

Our organisations join Italian journalists’ rights groups in strongly condemning all these incidents of violence against the media. Concerningly, these kinds of attacks have underscored the consistent threats that journalists in Italy face while reporting on anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine pass protests. During the pandemic, MFRR monitoring organisations have documented dozens of attacks and threats against journalists and media workers by protesters in various parts of the country, both during protests and against journalists investigating or reporting on anti-vaccine and conspiracy theory groups. Abuse of journalists covering demonstrations is becoming the norm rather than an anomaly.

We call on the Italian government to urgently take action to improve the safety of journalists covering protests. There is clearly a need for improving the public’s media literacy, so they better understand the press’ role, while also duly investigating and prosecuting acts of violence and harassment. Furthermore, any acts of police brutality must be swiftly and adequately investigated through an appropriate disciplinary process. This must be paired with improved capacity-building among law enforcement personnel in coordination with representatives of the journalistic profession to generate a better understanding of journalists’ and media workers’ protection needs during demonstrations.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • 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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Italy: Defamation law must be reformed

Italy: Defamation law must be reformed

A year after the Constitutional Court ruled on the unconstitutionality of prison sentences in cases of defamation through the press, on 22 June 2021 the Court issued a follow-up decision declaring art. 13 of Law 47/1948 (Press Law) not compliant with the Constitution. The Court has however declared art. 595(3) of the Penal Code, which provides for a sentence between one and six years of prison or the payment of a fine, compliant with the Constitution, but applicable only in cases of “exceptional severity”.

In June 2020, the Constitutional Court invited the Italian Parliament to remove specific provisions declared unconstitutional and promote a wider reform of the defamation framework. However, the Parliament did not meet the deadline set by the Court and failed to legislate on this matter, returning the decision to the judiciary. In its decision on 22 June 2021, in light of the lack of such initiative, the Court renewed its call on Parliament urging the promotion of a reform that could adequately balance the “freedom of expressing one’s own thought and (the) protection of individual reputation”. The lack of parliamentary initiative in pushing for comprehensive reform of the defamation framework in Italy is a long-standing issue that contributes to the erosion of a free and independent press and an increase in SLAPPs against journalists.

Data from Istat (Italian National Statistics Institute) shows that, in 2017 alone, a total of 9,479 proceedings for defamation were initiated against journalists, of which 60% were dismissed after preliminary investigation and 6.6% went to trial. Plaintiffs are often public figures – politicians, businessmen, or individuals involved in organized crime – who start legal proceedings against journalists with an aim to silence them and bury articles that often contain information on  corruption, tax evasion, or mafia collusion.

A reform of defamation laws is urgently needed to stop SLAPPs against journalists, which often lead to self-censorship and discourage newspapers and editors from publishing sensitive or controversial information for fear of incurring lengthy and expensive legal proceedings. The European Commission – aware of the need to counter this phenomenon within the EU – committed itself to promoting measures to counter SLAPPs within the EU block, following a request of an Anti-SLAPPs Coalition composed of 60 organizations in Europe, including the members of the Media Freedom Rapid Response. The European Parliament also recently took action against SLAPPs by promoting an “own-initiative report (INI)”, to be discussed on 28 June 2021, with an aim to push the Commission to adopt legislative measures to address SLAPPs.

The undersigned organisations urge the Italian Parliament to begin comprehensive reform of defamation laws in line with international freedom of expression standards as soon as possible. Such reform should center on the decriminalisation of defamation and set limits within civil law on the amount in damages that can be sought to avoid creating undue obstacles to the journalistic profession. Furthermore, this reform should address specific challenges posed by SLAPPs against journalists within the Italian framework. While the Italian Civil Code includes some provisions aimed at countering SLAPPs – art. 96 provides that those plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit in “bad faith” must compensate the defendant – judges rarely recur to this provision in practice.

We call on the Italian Parliament to prioritise the reform of both criminal and civil defamation laws, drive discussions that will lead to the identification of measures that address Italian issue areas, and establish a framework that will protect journalists from indiscriminate use of the law to silence or discredit.

Cases of criminal defamation and civil lawsuits, such as SLAPPs, can be reported to mappingmediafreedom.org. The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) also provides financial legal support for journalists, media workers, and media outlets. For further information on legal aid, please visit https://www.mfrr.eu/support/legal-support or contact Flutura Kusari on kusari@ecpmf.eu.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (FNSI)
  • Sindacato Unitario Giornalisti Campania (SUGC)
  • Articolo 21
  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)

This statement was first published by Article 19 on 23 June 2021