Police plan to drop guard on Italian investigative reporter despite mafia threats

By Alberto Spampinato

The Italian Government is under pressure to reverse the decision to revoke, from 15.February, the armed escort granted in 2015 to the well-known journalist Sandro Ruotolo. This protection was granted to protect him from the Camorra clan Casalesi, whose boss had planned to kill him. 

Sandro Ruotolo Sandro Ruotolo. Photo: O2

It was reported on 1.February that the protection will be withdrawn. An announcement that nothing has been yet decided came on February 5, together with the public commitment to review the persistence of the risk again.

Sandro Ruotolo has for many years been one of the most popular faces among public television journalists where he worked alongside Michele Santoro in programmes with high audience ratings. In particular, Sandro Ruotolo has carried out many investigations on the mafia and the Camorra. In the last year, he continued the same activity with the "Fanpage" web TV channel, which has its headquarters in Naples.

His fame explains why the announcement that he would remain without police escort has triggered a wave of social protests. Numerous public figures, parliamentarians, and representatives of the government have also protested.

Sandro Ruotolo confirmed his fears, breaking his public silence on February 4, when he released a public statement to Ossigeno, ECPMF’s Rome-based partner organisation His statement was carried by all the media. The next day, the heads of the Interior Ministry's inventory office said the case would be reviewed. At the moment the only thing that is certain is that the protection will not end on February 15th, as was first announced.

More than twenty journalists under police escort

The case causes concern as Sandro Ruotolo is one of the 21 Italian journalists included in the system of protection of those at risk due to threats to their personal safety. The threats come from gangs, terrorists, or other quarters. This system, which ECPMF will explore in detail in the coming weeks in a report based on its Italian Fact Finding Mission, has demonstrated considerable efficiency and effectiveness over the years. It is part of a wider system of armed security protection that is extended to all public figures who are deemed to be at risk due to threats received by themselves or discovered by investigators. 

Currently, the total number of public figures receiving this protection is 585 (including 21 journalists). It is a very expensive system that employs about two thousand agents of various law enforcement bodies and also many armoured vehicles. To reduce costs, last November the Ministry of the Interior decided to check whether each of the 585 who are still being protected still needs the police escort. The revocation of the escort to Sandro Ruotolo would have been decided following one of these checks. Now the case will be reviewed again.

Alberto Spampinato is the founder of the Italian media freedom observatory Ossigeno per l'informazione, and a founder member of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom.