Journalists who write about organised crime in Italy are facing an alarming increase in acts of hostility against them, according to a report chronicling a sharp rise in attacks and incidents of intimidation in recent years.
The report, released this week by the parliamentary anti-mafia committee, found that journalists had been subject to 2,060 “acts of hostility” by the mafia between 2006 and October 2014, with a peak in violence in the first half of last year.
The report also found that only in “very few incidents” were the perpetrators of violence identified, tried and convicted. “The increase in acts of hostility against journalists is alarming,” said Rosy Bindi, chair of the anti-mafia commission.
The mafia is using traditional methods to try to intimidate investigative journalists – burning their cars, sending them bullets through the post, and verbal threats – but the report also found that corrupt individuals were increasingly using legal threats against journalists as a means of intimidation.
One journalist, Milena Gabanelli, described being issued dozens of subpoenas to try to quash her reporting, a method the report said targets journalists’ economic vulnerability.
The report noted that two of the most dangerous regions for journalists were Calabria, home of the famous ’Ndrangheta crime syndicate, and Sicily, home of the Cosa Nostra.
About 20 Italian journalists live under armed-guard protection and nine have been killed by the mafia in recent years. One of the most famous journalists to be living under armed guard is Roberto Saviano, a native of Caserta, near Naples, who was threatened by the mafia after his exposé of the infamous Camorra mafia. In an article he wrote for the Guardian this year, Saviano described his longing for a normal life after eight years under armed guard.
“I almost feel guilty for still being alive,” he wrote. “It’s hard to describe how bad [my life] is. I exist inside four walls, and the only alternative is making public appearances. I’m either at the Nobel academy having a debate on freedom of the press, or I’m inside a windowless room at a police barracks.”
Federico Varese, a mafia expert at Oxford University, said investigative journalists, coupled with strong and independent prosecutors, were essential for any society fighting organised crime. Comparing Italy’s situation with Mexico’s, he said it was important that in Italy there was – at least – an ongoing fight against the power of the mafia, even if the effort was “inefficient and not great”.
“If you don’t have a state that attacks the mafia in parallel [with reporters], then the journalists are really left alone and get killed, which is happening in Mexico,” he said. “Reporting on the mafia is absolutely critical because it is what often starts the investigations.”
Reporters Without Borders last month called for more protection of journalists in Italy after two reporters who were working on sensitive stories – Mimmo Carrieri and Nello Trocchia – were subject to threats and attacks.
Carrieri, who has reported on environmental abuses and is under police protection, was recently “roughed up” for an hour and says he has repeatedly been threatened, according to an interview he gave to Ossigeno per l’Informazione, which monitors violent threats against the Italian media. He has been receiving police protection since 2013, which involves officers driving by his home several times a day. But he has claimed he needs more protection.
The other journalist – Trocchia, a reporter who has written for Il Fatto Quotidiano and L’Espresso – has sought protection but not yet received it after the police recorded a telephone conversation in prison in which a boss of the Camorra told his brother: “I’m going to smash that journalist’s skull.”
The Camorra bosses were also alleged to have said they were aware of Trocchia’s movements and whereabouts, but he has not been given any police protection.