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26.03.2019

Italy: a great day for investigative journalism as court rejects Church of Scientology case

by Jane Whyatt

A court in Milan has ruled that two undercover reporters supported by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom did not break the law when they infiltrated the Church of Scientology in Italy for the purpose of making a television documentary. 

A great day for investigative journalism as Italian court rejects Curch of Scientology case Giuseppe Borello and Andrea Sceresini

The presiding judge dismissed the civil suit brought by the Church of Scientology against the reporters claiming 80,000€ in damages from Giuseppe Borello and 50,000€ from Andrea Sceresini. The court also ordered that the church pay all legal and court fees back to them.

Giuseppe Borello and Andrea Sceresini are independent journalists working in Italy. In 2017, they produced an investigative TV report on the activities of Scientology in Italy, also using undercover techniques. The Church of Scientology in Italy has filed a lawsuit against the journalists claiming: housebreaking, unauthorised recording, violation of non-disclosure agreement, and violation of privacy. 

Their lawyers Cesare Del Moro, Ilaria Bassi and Valerio Vartolo brought the case to a successful conclusion, arguing that the reporters were justified in their actions. The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom supported the journalists' case with 1,000 euros, after a brave decision by ECPMF Legal Advisor Flutura Kusari.

Brave, because the Church of Scientology has a long history of suing and discrediting journalists and critical authors. These include British reporter and author Andrew Morton; Richard Ingrams; Private Eye; the Evening Argus in East Grinstead, close to the European headquarters of the Church; the Daily Mail; as well as Channel Four TV and the BBC’s flagship Panorama programme.

Kusari approved the request for help from Borello and Sceresini and her decision was supported by the ECPMF Legal Affairs Committee, comprising at that time Gill Phillips of the Guardian newspaper, Dr. Stephan Ory of the European Media Law Institute, and Peter Noorlander of the Media Legal Defence Initiative. 

Encouragement to do our job with passion and courage 

Giuseppe Borello is overjoyed that they won the case. He told the ECPMF:

"The judge rejected every allegation and ordered to refund the legal fees.

"I want to say thank you again for your support, it was really important for us freelance journalists. As you know we work with less and less protections and rights. We are trying to change it; meanwhile, your help is an encouragement to continue to do our job with passion and courage. Today is a great day for investigative journalism."

In the meantime, the investigative reporters have won acclaim and 20,000 euros for their Scientology film at the 2016 DIG Awards. DIG stands for Documentari Inchieste Giornalismi (Investigative Journalism Documentaries). The documentary won in the Focus on Italy category and the citation reads:

"What do the eyes of those who work for Scientology for 250 euros a month see seven days a week? Who are the people you meet in the Milan office? What is the volume of business that Ron Hubbard's structure hides and moves right under his nose? Giuseppe Borello and Andrea Sceresini entered as insiders into the building that was recently opened in Milan, the huge new Church of Scientology costing millions of euros."

Commenting on the outcome of the case, Kusari, the ECPMF Legal Advisor, said:  

I am so happy. This shows the impact of our legal assistance service. Most people were afraid to support them. We took the risk."

Since the ECPMF was founded in 2015, more than 30 journalists and whistleblowers have benefitted from the organisation's legal assistance. It can be accessed through the ECPMF website, where the criteria, terms and conditions are explained.