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Italy: MFRR partners strongly condemn investigation into Domani journalists

ECPMF

07 March 2024

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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:

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 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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