Exposed: The hidden threats to Italy's journalists

It seems surprising that journalists in an EU member state face daily threats and that up to 50 of them live under 24-h our police protection In the last month, a blogger has been shot dead and three journalists’ cars have been wrecked by arsonists. Death threats and Facebook trolls attempted to intimidate others. The police take these threats seriously, since assassins have killed eleven journalists in recent years… Link to Ossigeno List 


This is Italy. Ranked seventy-third in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters without Borders, with a worse record than Haiti and Mongolia, Italy is a risky place to be a reporter. 


Mario Piccolino pictured on TwitterAbove: Mario Piccolino pictured on Twitter Left: Candlelit procession in memory of blogger Mario Piccolino, picture:

The case of the anti-Mafia blogger and former lawyer Mario Piccolino of, shot dead in his office at Formia on the afternoon of  29th May, is a shocking example. It provoked a rally on the streets under the banner: We are, recalling the Je suis Charlie response to the murder of 12 journalists and cartoonists in Paris earlier this year. 


Less obvious is the hidden menace, now revealed thanks to research by Ossigeno per l’informazione. Ossigeno – it means Oxygen in English - is a campaign that exists to shine a light on the dark forces that seek to silence investigative reporters.


Two reporters -  including 79 year old Francesco Cangemi have served time behind bars and others face prison sentences or, like Claudio Lazzoro, a huge fine and legal costs. Lazzoro was convicted on 6th May in Rome and ordered to pay 15,000 euros plus nine thousand euros in fees. It followed a complaint about his 2011 documentary Nazirock - Il contagio fascista tra i giovani italiani /Nazirock, the fascist contagion of Italy’s youth from the leader of the skinhead band Leggitima Offesa/Legitimate Offence, Luigi Guerzoni.


For other journalists like Antonio Cipriani, a defamation case can mean personal financial ruin. Defamation is a crime in Italy and publishers will not – or cannot – pay the typical fines of thousands of euros. The law is currently being reformed. Yet journalists fear it will continue to have a “chilling effect” on their work, especially when exposing corruption.


Elsewhere in Europe defamation is also a criminal matter, and the longest maximum prison sentence is in Slovakia (8 years). A comparative study by the International Press Institute was funded by the EU and the Open Society Foundation in 2014 (Link to IPI Map of Defamation) .


The IPI research shows most members and candidate nations have a penal code that protects public officials, flags and national symbols and punishes those who insult them. But only in Italy do the courts regularly try, convict and imprison journalists for publishing inconvenient truths.


Ossigeno is an international partner in the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the new co-ordinating body funded by the EU to strengthen ties between journalists, lawyers and campaigners across the whole of Europe (not only the member states).


Statistics for May 2015

In May 2015 Ossigeno reported 16 cases of intimidation against journalists, bloggers and media workers. 

- Assaults
- Two arson attacks
- Seven warnings*
- Two lawsuits

*One Mafia threat carried such a clear danger of death that the authorities gave police protection to TV journalist Sandro Ruotolo Link to report




On May 5th, 2015 Sandro Ruotolo, one of the best-known TV journalists, was threatened by a Mafia boss from a maximum security prison. Since then, the journalist has been living under police escort.


On the same day, journalist Elisabetta Aniballi’s car was damaged by an improvised bomb in broad daylight at Guidonia near Rome.


Other journalists’ cars were bombed this month during the night, on May 3rd in Reggio Calabria and on May 25th in Porto Recanati, The two arson attacks destroyed parked cars belonging to journalists, Aurelio Bufalari and Lorenzo Vitto. The flames threatened to burn down Vitto’s house.


On May 7th, near Pisa, Wolf Marongiu, a video reporter who was filming a construction site from a public highway, was attacked and beaten by a man who ordered him not to film.


On May 9th in Campania, the journalist Billy Nuzzolillo was beaten up by fans of a football club he had criticised.


On May 9th, in Formia, Francesco Furlan was assaulted by a business owner who also sued him for libel. Furlan had criticized the award criteria for a public contract in an article.

The same day, in Florence, Marco Ferini, a reporter on the TV network La7, and his camera operator were threatened and beaten while collecting information near a squatters’ shack.


On May 15th, it was revealedthat a telephoned threat in 2013 to Elisabetta Andreis, an editor of the Corriere della Sera, had originated from the hall next to the office of a senior magistrate. It followed the publication of an investigation into property that had been seized by the courts and was being sold at auctions.


On May 25th in Ostia, Federica Angeli, a journalist for La Repubblica newspaper, who has lived under police protection since 2013, was hit by threatening insults on social media. She had described in an article the state of neglect and lawlessness of a village twenty kilometres from Rome.


On May 25th, Michele Buono, a journalist at RAI the national public broadcasting corporation was confronted by a banner that called him a “terrorist.” The day before, the journalist had criticized the protest by Roman taxi drivers against Uber.


On May 16th in Sardinia, Michele Ruffi, a reporter for the newspaper L’Unione Sarda, asked a retired archbishop to comment on the arrest of a parish priest, on charges of child sex abuse. The former archbishop commented that he would have told the faithful not to buy his newspaper any more.


On May 17th, in Puglia, the journalist Antonio Tufariello published a critical profile of a mayoral candidate in Cerignola in the newspaper La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno saying he had hit one of his collaborators and attacked him with a chair. The candidate has repeatedly insulted and denigrated the journalist during the election campaign.


On May 29th, an anonymous letter with death threats was delivered to Nicola Costanzo, of the daily Il Quotidiano del Sud, Calabria. The letter said “Mind your own business or I’ll shoot you” and cited a number of articles written by the reporter.


True to its mission of revealing hidden censorship, Ossigeno has also tracked instances of intolerance towards journalists. These do not amount to intimidation but contribute to an atmosphere that stifles a free press. In May the campaign has published 47 articles in Italian, 18 in English and 18 in French. It also released eight newsletters in Italian and three in English during the month in question. 


The chilling effects of assassination, death threats and imprisonment for defamation are most clearly seen in Italy’s media. But they are vital issues for the whole of Europe and ECPMF will continue to report on them – here and through its partner organisations’ websites, newsletters and alerts.




by Jane Whyatt, ECPMF

Based on an original report in Ossigeno per l’informazione.