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To tell you the truth: populism’s increasing pressure on journalists

Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini is in line with other populists in Europe who seem more interested in fighting journalists than organised crime.

roberto-saviano
Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano. Photo: Il Circolo dei Lettori.

In line with populists across Europe, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini has included the media in his line of attack by challenging the necessity of police escorts for investigative journalist Roberto Saviano, author of best-seller ‘Gomorrah’ who has faced threats to his life following the publication of the book.

“It seems to me that he spends a lot of time abroad, so it seems fair to me to evaluate how the Italians spend their money,” Salvini said on Rai 3 programme Agora.

The author has been living under armed guard since the book was published in 2006 – he was 27 years old. The threats came from the Casalesi, one of the clans whose system he exposed.

Links between Malta and the Casalesi have been established. In the 2018 report on Malta by Fondazione Caponnetto, the clan from Campania is mentioned a number of times. The same report also refers to a lack of collaboration from Maltese authorities.

Hitting back at Salvini, the journalist said: “Italy is the western country with most journalists under police escort because it has the most powerful criminal organisations in the world, but Matteo Salvini, rather than fighting the mafia threatens to silence those who report about it.”

roberto saviano

What Italy’s Interior Minister did not mention is the reported link between the mafia clan ‘Ndrangheta and his far-right party Lega Nord. Exponents from his party have been linked to clan bosses causing the fall of the local government in Monza.

In Italy, 19 journalists are living under police protection due to their investigations into organised crime.

In the words of Vittorio di Trapani, national secretary for the Union of Rai Journalists: “’Having (police) escorts is not a privilege or a desire”.

According to Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 World Press Freedom Index: “The level of violence against reporters (including verbal and physical intimidation and threats) is alarming and keeps growing, especially in Campania, Calabria and Sicily” – the southern regions synonymous with the Comorra, ‘Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra.

One of those journalists forced to live under police protection for investigations into the mafia, Paolo Borrometi, showed solidarity with Saviano in a Tweet: “My solidarity with Roberto who for over 11 years lives deprived of his freedom, to give freedom”.

Read more: Expecting the truth is the only duty we have

If politicians really want to fight organised crime, instead of harassing journalists they should look into why these journalists are being threatened and take action. The recent attacks and assassination of journalists can never justify such a statement from Italy’s interior minister Salvini (who is also the country’s Deputy Premier).

Rather than bullying journalists or playing with the lives of men, women and children at sea, the Italian and Maltese governments should work with their European counterparts and come together to fight organised crime. Impunity is already leading to criminals getting away with murder.

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