On January 19, 2021, Italy's outgoing Minister of Agriculture Teresa Bellanova speaks ahead of a vote at the upper house of Parliament. On October 17, 2022, Italian authorities demanded prison sentences for three journalists in a defamation lawsuit filed by Bellanova. (Reuters/Yara Nardi)

Italian authorities demand prison sentence for three journalists in defamation lawsuit

Berlin, November 2, 2022—Italian authorities should immediately drop criminal defamation charges against journalists Danilo Lupo, Francesca Pizzolante, and Mary Tota and stop using the country’s criminal code to prosecute journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

On October 17, 2022, prosecutors in Lecce, a town in southern Italy, requested a prison sentence of six months for Lupo, a reporter for privately owned commercial television station La7, Pizzolante, a reporter for privately owned daily newspaper Il Tempo, and Tota, a reporter for privately owned daily newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, in a defamation lawsuit initiated by former government official, Teresa Bellanova in 2014, according to Il Fatto Quotidiano and Il Giornale, and Pizzolante, who communicated with CPJ by email. Tota and Lupo did not reply to CPJ’s queries.

According to these reports, Bellanova, then Italy’s undersecretary of state for labor and social policies, sued her former press officer, Maurizio Pascali, for defamation and extortion and the three journalists for defamation and complicity in extortion after they reported in 2014 on a labor lawsuit between Bellanova and Pascali, which Pascali won on appeal in September 2022. After this court decision, prosecutors dropped the charges of complicity in extortion against the three reporters but maintained the charges of defamation against them, Il Giornale reported.

The reports by La7 and Il Fatto Quotidiano are still online. Pizzolante said that due to a bankruptcy procedure against the former owners of Il Tempo, the new owners removed all articles for which there are ongoing court cases.

“Italian authorities must immediately drop criminal defamation charges against reporters Danilo Lupo, Francesca Pizzolante, and Mary Tota, and stop enabling a politician’s campaign of retaliation and harassment against the press. As a senior politician, Bellanova should expect and endure criticism, rather than demonize journalists and threaten them with imprisonments imply for doing their job,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative in Berlin. “Italy should have scrapped criminal defamation from its books long ago—such laws have no place in a democracy.”

According to Corriere Salentino and Il Fatto Quotidiano reports and Pizzolante, Pascali in 2014 sued Bellanova and the Democratic Party, for which she was a member of Parliament until 2018, claiming that he had worked for her without a proper contract for months. The lawsuit ended on appeal in September 2022, with an order for Bellanova and the Democratic Party to pay Pascali compensation.

Bellanova lost her position as senator in the upper house of the Italian Parliament in October 2022, when she failed to win reelection, Il Fatto Quotidiano reported. She is currently the national president of political party Italia Viva.

CPJ emailed questions to the prosecutor’s office in Lecce and the Italia Viva press department but received no immediate reply.