Italy: UN agency tries to silence Rome-based editor

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the disproportionate nature of the defamation proceedings that the director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other FAO officials have brought against John Phillips, the British editor of Italian Insider, an English-language monthly based in Rome.

Phillips, who is due to appear in court in Rome on 14 June, could be sentenced to at least three years in prison and ordered to pay more than 100,000 euros in damages under Italy’s criminal libel law in connection with his coverage of alleged corruption and nepotism within the FAO, which has its headquarters in Rome.

The FAO’s Brazilian director general, José Graziano da Silva, brought a libel action as the agency’s representative, seeking a sum in damages that has not been revealed. Four other FAO officials, including Graziano’s chief of a staff, are also suing Phillips for around 100,000 euros, an exorbitant sum that neither he nor the newspaper would be able to pay.

Italian Insider was founded in 2009 by Phillips and a handful of other Rome-based foreign reporters who wanted an outlet for longer investigative pieces. Their stories have been picked up in recent years by some of the biggest international media outlets including the Economist, Guardian, AFP and RAI.

We deplore the fact that the FAO and its director general have brought criminal proceedings against the journalist John Phillips and are seeking an outrageous sum in damages with the clear aim of getting his newspaper shut down,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk.

As the mandate of the United Nations includes promoting and defending press freedom, it is highly regrettable that one of its agencies is suing a media outlet and its journalists in this manner.”

An Italian Insider legal defence fund drive was launched on the crowdfunding platform Gofundme on 1 June in a bid to help Phillips cover his legal costs.

Under Italy’s criminal code, defaming politicians, judges or civil servants is punishable by at least three years in prison. Italy is ranked 46th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

Published on
Updated on 12.06.2018