Italian press freedom is seriously threatened by yet another attempt by a member of the current government to silence independent journalism. The undersigned media freedom and civil society organisations strongly condemn the decision of the Italian prosecutor to issue a seizure order for Domani’s investigative article, following a criminal complaint by Claudio Durigon, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of the current government. No journalists expressing their opinion or investigating on matters of public interest should fear nor be exposed to intimidation, conviction, or imprisonment.
On March 3, 2023, journalists Giovanni Tizian and Nello Trocchia found out that Durigon had initiated a legal action through the visit of two police officers knocking at Domani’s newsroom door who presented them with a seizure order for an article they had authored. The seizure order mentioned that the undersecretary of Labour had initiated a criminal defamation lawsuit against “unknowns”. It is understood the criminal complaint identifies only the article as its subject.
The article by Tizian and Trocchia, published in January 2023, revealed Durigon’s alleged ties with individuals connected with local criminal organisations. The report examined how in 2018, while serving as an MP and national secretary of the Italian General Labour Union, Durigon had supported the career of a now convicted union member, Simone Di Marcantonio. In January, Di Marcantonio was found guilty in the first instance of extortion, linked to a criminal clan operating in the province of Latina. Di Marcantonio is also indicted for acting as a front man for a Calabrian ‘ndrangheta boss.
In response to Domani’s article, Durigon filed a complaint for criminal defamation through the press, based on article 13 of Italian criminal code 47/1948, a provision carrying prison sentences of up to six years, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Italian Constitutional Court (ruling 150/2021).
Following Durigon’s complaint, the Italian prosecutor ordered the seizure of a hard copy of the indicted article, despite the fact that Tizian and Trocchia’s report was fully available on Domani’s webpage. Such atypical proceedings by the Court of Rome represent an alarming abuse of legal actions at the hands of Italian authorities and public officials. This unnecessary intrusion into Domani’s newsroom signals Italian authorities’ increasing recourse to tactics aimed at intimidating and silencing independent voices and media, raising criticism towards public officials.
Italian authorities’ decision to resort to a seizure order has a serious chilling effect. Together with a rising number of defamation lawsuits brought by members of the current government, it indicates a worrying deterioration of press freedom in Italy. Along with Prime Minister Georgia Meloni, Minister of Infrastructures Matteo Salvini and Minister of Culture Gennaro Sangiuliano, Durigon is the fourth member of the current Italian government having ongoing legal actions directed to silence criticism from the press.
Current Italian government officials have been increasingly responding to articles reporting on issues of public interest with lawsuits. This is an alarming trend. Public figures holding elected office have a duty to act responsibly and be prepared to accept a higher level of public scrutiny, in accordance with both national and international rulings.
In expressing our solidarity with Domani’s newsroom, we therefore urge the competent authorities to refrain from resorting to such unjustified intimidatory practices towards Domani and any other newsroom in the future. We also call on Durigon to withdraw his criminal defamation complaint.
More widely, we urge the Italian Parliament to adopt a comprehensive reform of defamation laws in Italy in line with international freedom of expression standards as a matter of urgency. This long overdue 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. 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.
Our organisations will continue to closely monitor this situation involving Domani and will respond to all threats to media freedom in Italy, including the documentation of cases on the Mapping Media Freedom platform.