Investigative journalism is certainly not easy, in addition to the risks of the trade, one often incurs libel lawsuits, SLAPP, etc. especially if like the journalist Sara Manisera you deal with sensitive issues such as organized crime. We interviewed her
Sara Manisera is a freelance journalist who is part of the collective of journalists, photographers and authors Palace . He writes on gender issues, minorities, agriculture, the environment, and civil society. His contributions have been published by various international newspapers including Al Jazeera, Liberation, The Nation. He has written Tales of slavery and struggle in the countryside, a book that originated from his degree thesis in the sociology of organized crime in Rosarno, in the province of Reggio Calabria. Since 2023 she has been affiliated with Bertha Challenge Investigative Journalist Fellow , a scholarship that is allowing her to devote herself to an annual project on the wheat supply chain. On 1 September 2022, the Municipality of Abbiategrasso adopted a resolution to start a aggravated criminal defamation lawsuit against him . A sentence pronounced in Cutro in June 2022 during the acceptance speech of the Diego Tajani award, about the pervasiveness of mafia infiltration even in municipalities such as that of Abbiategrasso, did not go down well with the council of the Lombard municipality.
Is this the first defamation lawsuit you’ve faced?
Yes, it’s the first complaint I’ve received, it was notified to me by the carabinieri in January 2023. I wasn’t reported for a published article, but for a sentence I uttered in a speech in which I quoted the Municipality of Abbiategrasso during an awards ceremony in front of male and female students. That day I had in front of me some school groups from Cutro who have probably only heard of the ‘Ndrangheta and Calabria in their life, of the south in a certain way. I wanted to show them that the mafias are not only in the south, but also in the north. And they’ve been infiltrating the northern economy for decades. The municipal administration of Abbiategrasso has not asked for any rectification of the sentence I have pronounced; did not invite a public discussion on the subject. This would have been the most appropriate response from a local politician attentive to the infiltration of mafia-type organizations and which could have been considered offended by the sentences pronounced in Cutro.
Why do you think the council of Abbiategrasso felt resentful of your comment?
I do not know. I tell her about the facts. We are talking about a territory that is in the south-west of Milan, attached to Gaggiano, Corsico, Trezzano, Buccinasco. Territories that, for over 30 years, have seen not infiltration, but colonization by the ‘Ndrangheta and, in the Abbiategrasso area, by bosses linked to Cosa Nostra. Various exponents of gangs linked to Cosa Nostra have been sent to this area on compulsory stays. In this area, there are parts of the economy that also feed on the laundering of capital from illicit activities by mafia-type organizations. Sara Manisera does not say this, the sentences say it, the operations directed by the District Anti-Mafia Directorates such as Crimine-Infinito, which sanctioned the presence of the mafias in the North. Now, not wanting to see it or not wanting to tell about it is what Professor Nando dalla Chiesa summarizes as: “Either you are an idiot, and therefore you are an accomplice in some way, or you are really an accomplice”. But going beyond this reasoning, I think that there is very little talk about public ethics and the role that politicians should have, that is, politicians with a straight back who should not go and have coffee with what is considered a member of that gang or of that other clan. As for the Municipality of Abbiategrasso, I don’t know why in 2023 they felt their image was damaged. There are other ways to protect the reputation and image of one’s territory, starting with serious environmental policies aimed at effectively protecting the territory and the landscape.
Let’s talk about vexatious causes. How did this lawsuit affect your work and his personal life?
Thanks to the solidarity of civil society and the mobilization that took place on my case, several people from realities such as FNSI, Articolo21, Ossigeno, Libera, Un Ponte Per have taken action. There have been many public and non-public voices that have come to my defense. This meant that Ossigeno per l’Informazione included me in the cases of journalists who are granted their pro bono defense. Many other colleagues do not receive this type of media coverage, or as it is very often referred to, media escort. When you are alone and don’t have a media escort, these types of lawsuits have an enormous impact, both on your work because they intimidate, stop you, discourage you. But also on mental health because they represent a constant thought: all the papers, the documents you have to collect to compose the defensive memory. The length of the process: proceedings that go on for months, years. This has a greater impact on people who carry out this work as a freelancer, because it is one thing to have a publisher behind you with a director or a publication, a lawyer for the publication, a team that accompanies you on this journey; it’s another thing to be alone.
What would we need to counter the phenomenon of vexatious lawsuits?
Definitely free legal coverage for all journalists who suffer this type of lawsuit. An ad hoc fund constituted precisely by other causes intended for compensation for damages.
What is the relationship between the press and politics, even local?
I think that the state of health between the local and national press and local and national institutions is not the best. I observe, at the local level, an absence of journalism-journalism, quoting Giancarlo Siani, that journalism that should make fleas in power. Local journalism, with rare exceptions, is a megaphone of power. This happens because there is no money; because local newspapers very often have publishers who work hand in hand with the local economy and therefore with local politics; because there is a lack of real independence of the journalist, also due to business models.
It goes without saying that political power that is not used to confrontation with the press, the type of press that plays a role of dialectic and confrontation, resorts to lawsuits when subjected to criticism, because it is the easiest weapon. The lawsuit is the weapon used to silence, distance, silence and somehow even a little intimidate. It’s not just a warning to that particular journalist who writes, talks and says certain things. It is also a warning to other journalists.
This type of vexatious actions carried out by people in power reveal a lot about the state of health of journalism in Italy, and about the relationship between the press and institutions. But also on the freedom of speech and the right to inform, or on what is Article 21 of our Constitution. The mafias are not just a judicial phenomenon, they are a social, cultural, economic, political phenomenon and therefore we need to talk about them and I believe that journalists today have the role of informing and explaining to citizens also the forms and the metamorphosis of organizations of the mobster. As Paolo Borsellino said, talk about it. Talk about it on television, talk about it on the radio. But talk about it. If it is not the journalist who informs the public by saying: mind you that the mafias today recycle in cement, mind you that the mafias have also entered the municipalities of the north, but who has to do it?
What does it mean for you to be a journalist and in particular an independent investigative journalist?
I believe that the journalism that I carry on together with the Fada collective, of which I belong, is a committed journalism. It is militant journalism, which also has a political gaze. In the sense that it is non-neutral journalism, because it takes the time to look at the ecological and social fractures of certain societies and certain issues. I always give this example, quoting a French colleague Salomé Saqué, who explains that deciding to give the floor to the CEO of Total, who is responsible for environmental crimes in Uganda that will force millions of people to leave the country, or deciding to giving the floor to the environmentalists who are fighting against that project means making a precise choice. So choosing to tell the story of the struggles of environmentalists in Uganda or Iraq means bringing their voices to the center of public debate.
|This publication was produced in the framework of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), co-funded by the European Commission. The responsibility for the contents of this publication lies with Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa and does not in any way reflect the opinion of the European Union.|
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