Archive for category Threats against journalists

While the ball is rolling Italy works on gagging-law

Blank front page as protest: “The gag-law denies citizens the right to be informed”.

Some weeks ago this blog had to show the blank front pages from major Estonian newspapers in protest against a law against protections of journalists’ sources. Today the Watchdog Blog has to show blank front pages again, this time from Italy. “It is necessary to halt that law which defends power’s privacy,” comments police protected mafia-reporter Roberto Saviano in La Repubblica.
The Watchdog Blog is happy that Italian journalist Leo Sisti, an experienced reporter and author covering the fight against corruption and terrorism, has been so kind to write an article about the situation for the Watchdog Blog.
Brigitte Alfter

The Gagging Law
By Leo Sisti, L’Espresso, Il Fatto Quotidiano

Readers of “La Repubblica” must have jumped casting a glance to the blank front page of the Italian daily newspaper out in the newsstands Friday June 11. In the center of the page they could read the following message reported on a yellow post it: “The gagging law denies citizens the right of being informed”. After turning the page they could realize how deep the protest was against a new bill approved the previous day by the Upper House sanctioning with jail journalists who publish transcripts of  documents or wiretaps stemming from criminal investigations before a case is heard by a judge.

Ezio Mauro, La Repubblica’s editor, explained his exceptional decision with harsh words: the gagging law, doggedly wanted by primeminister Silvio Berlusconi running a center right coalition, “is an authoritarian act of the government on the basic right of citizens -the right of being informed- tied to the journalists’ duties to inform”.

The bill, before coming into force, must be approved by the Chamber of Deputies (Lower House) and signed into law by the President of Italy Giorgio Napolitano. But with a law jeopardizing democracy and freedom of speech the protest immediately spread to other newspapers and media, as well as public opinion.

The Turin daily “La Stampa” reported a blank column in its front page on June 11, while Sky Italia, the encrypted TV channel owned by the Australian tycoon Rupert Murdoch, broadcast the news with a black banner protesting the gagging law. A strike of the Italian journalists is set on July 9.

La Repubblica’s editor Mauro went on to say that “if the law is approved by the Lower House, the Government will decide over the quantity and the quality of the ‘sensitive’ news to be printed by newspapers and therefore known by readers”.

There’s no doubt on what the “sensitive” news are: almost day after day Italian media publish reports on arrests executed against high ranking State officials and politicians in high places on bribery charges. And about Berlusconi pursuing his personal interest in halting leaked transcripts reporting his conversations with high ranking managers of RAI, the State owned broadcaster. According to media reports he repeatedly requested RAI’s general manager, to ban airing critical political talk shows. Moreover during sixteen years since Berlusconi entered the political arena, he promoted up to 40 laws, dubbed “ad personam” (personal laws) that can shield himself from prosecutions and trials.

Berlusconi’s goal appears to be to silence media preventing journalists from reporting information on criminal investigations based on arrest warrants given to attorneys and therefore considered of public knowledge. Until the end of the preliminary investigation it will be possible to publish only a summary of the news. Reporting quotes derived from arrest warrants will be forbidden, unless running risks of being jailed or paying a fine. A time limit of 75 days is set to the duration of eavesdropping, extensions being admitted only in special cases.  Authorization for eavesdropping will come no more from a single judge, but a from a three-judge panel. As a result of the publication of leaked documents publishers will be fined from 300.000 euros up to 450.000 euros. If a priest is investigated or arrested, the prosecutor will be obliged to inform priest’s bishop. If a bishop is investigated or arrested, the prosecutor will be obliged to inform the Vatican. Even reporting names of prosecutors will be banned.

Under the new procedure it will take time, or rather years, before a case is heard by judges. And of course the public will never be acquainted with investigations.

Justice minister Angelino Alfano defends his law saying it is intended to protect people not linked to investigations whose names are sometimes reported in the press. But it’s easy to argue that in this case insignificant parts of the transcripts must be classified and kept in special archives run by prosecutors.

Berlusconi’s critics point out the gagging law is similar to a scheme already worked out in the seventies by Licio Gelli, the founder of the outlawed P2 masons lodge, under the name of “Democratic Rebirth’s plan”. According to some commentators Gelli’s plan aimed at setting up an authoritarian government in politics taming magistrates and journalists. Among the 932 members of Gelli’s P2 there were excellent politicians, chiefs of secret services, generals of Carabinieri and Silvio Berlusconi. In 1978 the current prime minister, whose family owns the most important private Tv empire, was initiated into P2’s secret ritual with the card number 1816.

La Repubblica protest website

Hard debate quoted in Corriere della Sera

News and protest by the International Press Institute

Roberto Saviano, Italian journalist and author who lives under constant police protection because of his coverage of the mafia, warns against the new law in La Repubblica.

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Truly European journalism

Slave workers in Europe. Personal tragedies, evil masterminds, fear, violence  and threats to journalists. And European questions. All elements for a good story are there. Yet it took Adrian Mogos from Romania two years before he had finally published the story, he already had heard rumours about so long ago. The reason: There was no money for travelling, communication and the extra time that is necessary to do cross-border research.

Now at last the story is documented: Workers from Moldova are trafficked to the Czech Republic, where they work under slave like conditions, in this case picking asparagus. The organised crime structures behind appear to have caused  a trail of fear, which was what the team of journalists found whereever they looked.

Adrian Mogos decided to follow the story – across borders and against all obstacles – including the economic ones.  The research could finally be done in the course of 2009, because Mogos and his team got a research grant from the newly founded Journalismfund.eu, which aims at supporting exactly this type of cross-border research.

Mogos and his team are not the only journalists, who face such problems. Even editors who support investigative and research intensive stories are often not willing (or do not have the budget) to pay for trips abroad, translations, long-distance calls and so on. While European integration has been evolving over the past decades, media still very much stick to their national focus.

Focusing on a national target group is crucial because of our different media traditions. Our readers simply are used to have their stories presented in one way,  that’s what they like. So that’s what they should get.

Yet the research should not be limited to stay within the national frontiers. When stories cross borders – like traffickers and their victims do, and like the vegetables do, that have been picked by the slave workers – then journalists must cooperate with colleagues across borders or travel themselves. Oftentimes networking is necessary because of the knowledge of each national situation. But networking ultimately also gives added value to the editors and publishers. If a team of reporters gathers good evidence each in the field or country, they know best, each of the editors will get more information through the added research to present to the readers. If the story then is published in several countries  around the same time, we are heading towards truly European journalism.

Time to get inspired to develop it further! Journalismfund.eu tries to do that by making possible stories like the one about labour trafficking through research grants. The grants are distributed according to a set of criteria by an anonymous jury – in order to maintain full journalistic indepence, avoid interference and heighten credibility. The jury consists of highly estimated colleagues, whose identity will be disclosed after their term is over – and when there will be no more interest in trying to influence them one way or the other.

The funding so far has been granted by the freedom of speach foundation Fritt Ord in Norway and by the Media Programme of the Open Society Institute. The Network of European Foundations has kindly supported the idea. Journalismfund.eu is a project by the Belgian Pascal
Decroos Fond.

Read more about the slave workers as well as the journalists’ report on how it was done.

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Reporting forbidden?

“Media and politics – the tension between freedom of the press and personal rights in print media and the internet”. Monday November 9th, 18.30, Residence Palace, Brussels – se invitation at the bottom of this blog entry.

Can only Norwegian media report about the British parliament? For one absurd day exactly that appears to have been the case last month, when the Guardian was gagged to report about a certain company by a court injunction. Norwegians colleagues were threatened with legal steps but published in Norway and online about the story.  A unique cross-border coopearation of colleagues from the Guardian, BBC, Volkskrant and NRK.

Earlier this year in Brussels a German liberal member of the European Parliament, who wanted to be re-elected, systematically approached media with threats to withhold one certain information: Her attendance figures in the previous period. What caused the politician to act, as she did, is not known. But her lawyer did get a temporary injunction against the important German daily FAZ, she tried to stop parts of an interview in German public service tv ARD, she tried to stop Brussels journalist and blogger Hajo Friedrich and she tried to stop German journalist and blogger David Schraven of Ruhrbarone. Her various actions were reported by German media magazine Zapp.

In Italy sueing journalists appears to be near normal. According to Italian MEP Mario Mauro from the first of January 1994 till 2009 6.745 penal and civil cases have been announced against press and tv. The average is 449 yearly, more than one a day.

Slovenia has accused Finnish journalist Magnus Berglund, who researched and aired a story about alleged corruption in an arms deal between Finnish company Patria and Slovenia. Finnish police is currently investigating the case.

Going furhter south from Slovenia to EU applicant countries in the Balkans, the situation gets even worse. Croatian journalist Hrvoje Appelt – currently under police protection  – has started to gather information about assaults against journalists in his own country and the neighbouring countries. Do run his overview over assaults against journalists through Google translate – it is saddening reading.

When Reporters Sans Frontieres recently published its annual index of press freedom, the conclusion read “Europe continues to recede”.

“Europe should be setting an example as regards civil liberties. How can you condemn human rights violations abroad if you do not behave irreproachably at home?” Thus reads the text of the press freedom watchers.

Coming Monday one step is taken to address at least one of the aspects. Journalists have invited politicians and lawyers to talk about the issue with each other in Brussels.

„Media and politics – the tension between freedom of the press and personal rights in print media and the internet“

Experts on the panel and in the audience discuss in German and English (simultaneous translation provided)

in the Residence Palace, Brussels, Rue de la Loi 155, Room Polak

on Monday 9 November 2009,

18.30 Welcome drinks

19.00 – 20.30 Panel discussion

On the Panel:

Philippe Leruth (Vice-President of the European Federation of Journalists, EFJ), Klaus-Heiner Lehne (MEP (PPE) and Chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee in the European Parliament), David Schraven (Freelance Jounalist and Blogger of the German website „Ruhrbarone“), Martin Huff (Journalist and Lawyer, Director of the Local Bar of Cologne), Eberhard Kempf (Lawyer, German Bar Association) and Gregor Kreuzhuber (Partner, GPlus-Communications Consultancy; Brussels)

Chair:

Hajo Friedrich (freelance journalist).

Manifold are the tensions between media and the people in the focus of media coverage. More and more often political reporting in print media and the internet is subject to – often costly – litigation in court. According to the Italian MEP Mario Mauro politicians in Italy have brought 6745 civil and criminal proceedings against media coverage since 1994. Also German MEPs have in the past filed law suits against the press.

In most cases there is a conflict between freedom of the press and personal rights, between journalists who investigate and politicians who feel pilloried. A new development seems to be that top politicians and other prominent figures take legal action against media reports even beyond national borders as with the World Wide Web print media have increased their sphere of influence enormously. In this regard the „internal market“ of the World Wide Web already has difficulties to respond to the question which national law and which court of jurisdiction are applicable.

Beyond identifying the essential issues in view of the above-mentioned tensions the panellists – together with the audience – will seek to find morals, answers and compromise solutions. For the first time the panel discussion will bring together representatives of almost all involved parties in Brussels: journalists and their lobbyists, lawyers, politicians, media and public affairs consultants.

The discussion will be in English and German (simultaneous translation German/English and vice versa will be available). Drinks & Snacks will be provided.

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