life under surveillance for an Italian journalist threatened by a mafia boss | Voice of America


As one of Italy’s best-known news anchors, Massimo Giletti knows that reporting on the Mafia comes with risk. But even now, he’s adjusting to the impact the organized crime coverage has had on his life.

For a year now, the Rome-based journalist has enjoyed 24-hour police protection. Two officers accompany him everywhere, even when he’s reporting.

“It’s very difficult. It’s strange. Because you are not free to move around, to talk with people. Always two people around you. So it is very difficult,” Giletti told VOA. .

Italy awarded protection to Giletti in 2020 after audio surveillance of Filippo Graviano, a crime boss jailed in Parma, alerted authorities to a possible threat.

Graviano, one of the leaders of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, was overheard that Giletti was a nuisance, Italian daily La Repubblica reported.

The journalist, who frequently talks about the Mafia on his LA7 TV Show “No to the arena” appeared to have caught the attention of the jailed crime boss when he criticized plans to release more than 300 convicted organized crime figures and associates as part of an effort to curb the crime. prison population during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to La Repubblica, what bothered Graviano the most was Giletti reading the names of all those released on the air.

While police protection is welcome, Giletti says he’s under tremendous emotional pressure.

With constant bodyguards, his way of reporting changed dramatically and the reporter said he still feared for his life whenever he left his house or saw someone near his property.

All it takes for the mafia to act is one moment, for someone to be caught off guard.

Threats against journalists who cover organized crime come with territory in parts of Italy.

More than 80 journalists said they were threatened in 2020, and around 20 were placed under police protection after receiving serious threats, according to a US State Department Report released in March.

Federico Varese, professor of mafia criminology at the University of Oxford, said organized crime networks view journalists as a threat.

While murders are less frequent, intimidation remains high, Varese told VOA.

“We see pressure, we see intimidation. Recently there was a journalist in Syracuse whose car was set on fire. Another case, also in Sicily, a journalist was attacked and left disabled by the mafia, ”Varese said.

The Syracuse attack took place in 2019, when a car belonging to criminal journalist Gaetano Scariolo was set on fire. The second Sicilian case cited by Varese is a 2014 attack on Paolo Borrometi in the city of Ragusa which left the journalist with a permanent shoulder injury. Borrometi now enjoys police protection and continues to report on the Mafia for his newspaper, La Spia.

A sign reading “The law is equal for all” is pictured ahead of a trial against 355 suspected members of the “Ndrangheta” mafia, accused of a series of charges, at a high-security courthouse in Lamezia Terme, Italy, January 13, 2021.

System watchdog

Journalist Giletti refuses to be silenced by threats and intimidation.

“The search for the truth is something that cannot be given up. Whoever does my job is a system watchdog, ”Giletti said. “Journalism is not turning your head the other way”

But this commitment cannot be taken lightly.

“The question we must ask ourselves is why those who deal with the Mafia in Italy find themselves under protection,” Giletti said. “I have big shoulders, I am famous, but there are a lot of very young guys who in Sicily, Calabria, Campania, do the same job as me, write articles and then they are afraid for their lives.

“It is a very big problem of freedom, of democracy, for the press, in Italy”, he added.

Nowadays, the Mafia has a lower profile, Giletti said, and fewer people are talking about their activities. In addition, there are fewer attacks and assassinations than in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Mafia is still involved in illicit activities, he said, especially in Milan and Rome where it manages billions of euros in illegal trade and tries to influence the political environment.

With less organized crime coverage, Mafia reporting can be a lonely experience.

“I fought in an absolute lonely battle when they released (Franco Cataldo),” Giletti said, referring to a man convicted in 1997 for his role in the murder of a teenager. “In the spring of 2020, this man returned home. Then later, thanks to our fight, he had to go back to prison.

Cataldo was serving a life sentence for his role in the kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo. The teenager was kidnapped in November 1993 after his father collaborated with the police over the Cosa Nostra. He was detained for over two years before the Mafia killed him in early 1996 and dumped his body in acid.

“If there had been other colleagues like me, maybe I would not have remained so isolated, because they should have put everyone under protection,” Giletti added.

Typically, journalists deemed at risk have received threats online or through social media, according to the Rome Anti-Mafia Commission.

University professor Varese said that with the Mafia no longer as powerful and influential as it once was, networks have less ability to commit acts of extreme violence.

“I think these organizations are not as strong as they used to be, so they are not capable of making these massive decisions,” Varese said.

Even under protection, says Giletti, if the Mafia wants to kill him, they will. But Giletti says he will continue. The only way to defeat the Cosa Nostra is to raise awareness so that people understand that the Mafia is not as powerful as it used to be, he says.

“We must invest in schools, in these territories where, unfortunately, it is more difficult for a child to grow up, because of a culture difficult to break: the omertà or code of silence”, he declared. . “If we fool ourselves into thinking that the police and the magistrates can beat the Mafia, we will be making a big mistake. “

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