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Italian PM Meloni takes another investigative reporter to court

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is taking one of Italy's best-known investigative journalists to court for alleged defamation in the second such trial since she took power last month.

Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi
Investigative journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi will face trial after being sued for defamation by Italy’s PM Giorgia Meloni. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Emiliano Fittipaldi, who works for left-wing daily Domani, and his editor Stefano Feltri stand accused of distorting facts in an article last year which suggested Meloni had tried to help a friend win a government contract during the coronavirus pandemic.

Meloni, whose far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, rejected the claim and sued.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

A judge in Rome ruled last week that the case should go to court, Fittipaldi said. Meloni’s lawyer confirmed the date had been set for July 10th 2024.

“I only reported true news,” Fittipaldi told AFP Tuesday, adding that he and Domani would continue to report on the government, including on “thorny” issues.

The decision to proceed to trial coincided with the opening day of a court case in which Meloni accused investigative journalist and anti-mafia author Roberto Saviano of ‘defamation’ after he called her a “bastard” while speaking on a TV show.

Saviano, Fittipaldi and Feltri all face up to three years in prison, if convicted.

Watchdogs say such trials are symbolic of a culture in Italy in which public figures intimidate reporters with repeated lawsuits, threatening the erosion of a free press.

Fittipaldi, known for revelations of murky affairs within the Vatican, said being sued “is the norm” for investigative journalists in Italy, and “luckily I have always won”.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Italian journalist Roberto Saviano

Like Fittipaldi, Roberto Saviano was also sued for defamation by premier Giorgia Meloni. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“But it is the first time that I will go on trial against a prime minister, who has a gigantic power compared to an opposition journalist,” he said.

Meloni took issue with Fittipaldi’s article in Domani on an inquiry into the purchase of masks by the government’s Covid-19 commissioner.

The paper said commissioner Domenico Arcuri told investigators Meloni had been copied in on an emailed bid for the tender.

It reported Meloni had also called Arcuri ahead of the emailed bid, and said she had “put in a good word” for a friend.

According to Domani, Meloni confirmed she had made a call but denied trying to influence the bid.

Her legal suit against Fittipaldi and Feltri accuses them of “scheming to arrive at a misleading and defamatory headline”, the paper said.

The bid was made by Fabio Pietrella, a Brothers of Italy MP, it added.

Italian newspapers

Nearly 9,500 defamation proceedings were initiated against Italian journalists in 2017. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Meloni’s lawyer, Luca Libra, told AFP the trial “was an expected outcome in the light of an article skilfully constructed to advance defamatory and baseless allegations”.

According to data from the Italian National Statistics Institute (ISTAT), nearly 9,500 defamation proceedings were initiated against journalists in Italy in 2017.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years.

But Italy’s Constitutional Court urged lawmakers in 2020 and 2021 to rewrite the legislation, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional and should only be resorted to in cases of “exceptional severity”.

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POLITICS

Italian PM Meloni refuses to back down on reporter ‘defamation’ trial

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Tuesday she will not withdraw her defamation suit against anti-mafia reporter Roberto Saviano, despite growing criticism that her position of power might skew the trial in her favour.

Italian PM Meloni refuses to back down on reporter 'defamation' trial

On Tuesday, the hard-right leader told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that she was confident the case would be treated with the necessary “impartiality”.

Meloni sued anti-mafia reporter Saviano for alleged defamation after he called her a “bastard” in a 2020 televised outburst over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but took office last month after an electoral campaign that promised to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the trial, which opened earlier in November, to be scrapped.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia reporter on trial for ‘defaming’ Italy’s far-right PM

“I don’t understand the request to withdraw the complaint on the pretext that I am now prime minister,” Meloni said.

“I believe that all this will be treated with impartiality, considering the separation of powers.”

She also added: “I am simply asking the court where the line is between the legitimate right to criticise, gratuitous insult and defamation.”

Saviano, best known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

The case dates back to December 2020 when Saviano was asked on a political TV chat show for a comment on the death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea in a shipwreck.

On the occasion, he railed at Meloni, who in 2019 had said that charity vessels which rescue migrants “should be sunk”.

Saviano is not the only journalist Meloni is taking to trial. One of the country’s best-known investigative reporters, Emiliano Fittipaldi, said last week the prime minister had sued him for defamation.

READ ALSO: Italian PM Meloni takes another investigative reporter to court

That trial is set to start in 2024.

Watchdogs say such trials are symbolic of a culture in Italy in which public figures intimidate reporters with repeated lawsuits, threatening the erosion of a free press.

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