ITALY: Report “Much Mafia, Little News”

(Ossigeno per l’informazione) On the dramatic theme of the criminal roots of the Mafia, on its influence on society and on the phenomena of corruption, newspapers and journalists in Italy produce less coverage than it would be desirable. This assessment is widely shared. There are numerous reasons: fear, threats, retaliation, connivance, punitive and discouraging legislation for reporters, intolerance.

These, in the opinion of experts, are the main reasons, even if they are often masked by false motives, to minimise or to make, out of necessity, an apparently objective choice to remain silent. Thus, for example, publishers and chief editors often do not provide space for these issues and tell whoever asks for explanations that the readers are not interested in reading news on these topics.

All this emerges, clearly itemised, from the dossier entitled “Much Mafia, Little News” produced by Ossigeno per l’informazione with the support of the European Commission, on behalf of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom in Leipzig (ECPMF).

The report presents the results of the Fact Finding Mission for which 25 structured interviews were conducted to gather the opinions of experts, magistrates, parliamentarians, government representatives and journalists.

Their answers provide a broad overview of points of view on each topic. The picture that emerges is as merciless as an X-ray. But the diagnosis is not entirely negative.

It states that Italy, along with the disease, also has the best remedies available and also has the most committed laboratories to study yet more effective ones.

Local newspapers and reporters appear to be the most exposed targets and the weakest link in the information chain. At the same time, they are strategically the most important element for information on this subject.

Among the many issues highlighted by the dossier to be solved, some concern the responsibility of publishers, others of newspaper editors, others of the legislators.

Important and original proposals are formulated by the National Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Federico Cafiero de Raho. The Prosecutor proposes, inter alia, to grant journalists some prerogatives to protect them from the risks of retaliation to which they are frequently exposed, in particular from spurious and groundless lawsuits. The Italian protection system is also described and evaluated by showing its positive and negative aspects.

With this objective study we believe we have made a contribution to those institutions committed to guaranteeing the broadest possible press freedom and the removal of both the legal and illegal reasons for which many journalists who report on Mafias risk their lives and their personal assets.

We will present this study to the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission and to all the other institutions that want to examine the issue in greater depth.

The composition of the answers given by the respondents

How important is information on the Mafia? Very important according to 95% of the 25 experts interviewed by Ossigeno for the report “Much Mafia, Little News”. However 80% of the people consulted say that not enough is provided. 40% believe that what is reported is little, another 40% consider it barely sufficient. When asked if the state broadcaster Rai does enough in this field, 50% responded with a clear “no”, the remaining 50% with a “no comment”. Why can’t more be done and done better? 79% of respondents blame journalists and publishers, the economic conditions in which they work but also the connivance of some of them with organized crime or corrupt individuals. 16% attribute the scant information to self-censorship practiced for fear of violent retaliation, threats, invasive searches, judicial seizures or other proceedings. Only 5% believe that the reduced volume of reporting is due to the restrictive laws on defamation, the confidentiality of on-going investigations and the protection of sources. Two thirds of those interviewed believe that some news items do not reach the pages of newspapers or program schedules because publishers and chief editors refuse to publish them. Among the reasons given for this refusal, half of the respondents cite the alleged lack of interest of readers, a third cite connivance with criminal circles and corruption, and 19% the fear of incurring retaliation. There is no doubt that journalistic inquiry can open the way for important official investigative developments. 26% of respondents cited the case of Federica Angeli’s investigations in Ostia. 35% remember the investigations by Lirio Abbate on Mafia Capitale (corruption in Rome). 39% indicate other investigations that have also had important judicial results. It also clearly appears that journalistic reporting has been used, at times, as an improper weapon to damage someone, as a “mud-slinging machine”. 23% recall the Boffo case, from the name of the then chief editor of L’Avvenire, who was targeted and forced to resign.

Respondents consider Ossigeno data on threatened journalists in Italy to be fully reliable (almost four thousand cases have been verified since 2006). 73% of respondents mostly attribute this to organized crime although the statistics of Ossigeno indicate that only 40% is from this source.

Two journalists out of three consider the Italian protection system for threatened journalists to be adequate and 91% consider it to be the best in the world. However, some interviewees pointed to a limitation: the system is difficult to access for reporters who are not classified at very high risk but still need protection. 95 per cent of respondents said that Ossigeno’s threat monitoring helped make reporters’ work more secure.

Read the report