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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Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.