BY Jemimah Steinfeld
Italy’s new populist government is threatening to take away police protection from investigative journalists.
He had spoken about it before becoming Italy’s interior minister. Now, not even a month into the role, Matteo Salvini has threatened to remove the police protection for one of the country’s most famous journalists, Roberto Saviano. In an interview on national broadcaster Rai Tre on Thursday morning, Salvini said it was time to review spending on Saviano’s police escort as part of an evaluation of how “Italians spend their money”, thus following through on a specific pledge he made as part of the election campaign.
Saviano has received 24-hour police protection for more than a decade following the release of his book Gomorrah, published in 2006, which looked at the Neapolitan mafia. A best-selling writer and media personality, he is also one of Salvini’s toughest critics.
Other investigative journalists who receive 24-hour protection after having written exposés of mafia corruption and receiving death threats are also worried about their future security.
In the 2018 summer issue of the Index on Censorship‘s magazine, Federica Angeli, herself a journalist living under 24-hour police protection after exposing mafia links in the resort town of Ostia, near Rome, says: “In Italy, people have got used to the fact that journalists need police protection.”
In 2017, it was reported that 196 journalists have received protection, with approximately ten reporters having it for 24 hours a day.
Angeli expressed concern that Italy’s current political situation would leave her and other journalists further isolated and exposed.
The threat against Saviano from Salvini comes at a precarious moment for journalists in Italy. Reporters Without Borders warned this year that the level of violence against reporters is “alarming and keeps growing”. On Index’s Mapping Media Freedom (MMF) site, which tracks media violations against journalists across Europe, 32 incidents were documented in 2017 in Italy. This year, 24 have already been recorded. These incidents are often very violent, even if not resulting in death. Last November, Rai reporter Daniele Piervincenzi had his nose broken after a man with links to the mafia head-butted him. As a result of these attacks, a coordination centre for combatting acts of intimidation against journalists opened in December, the first of its kind in Europe, according to Italian authorities.