Cities in Southern Italy that have already been infiltrated by the mafia are now badly affected by the economic and social crisis resulting from the lockdown imposed by the government to contain the coronavirus epidemic. It is also the case of a low-income quarter of Palermo. In order to compensate for the shortcomings of the government’s measures during the lockdown and to allow the criminal organisation to increase its influence, the brother of Giuseppe Cusimano, a mafia boss imprisoned on drug trafficking charges, started distributing free food to the poorest local population.
Ever since La Repubblica journalist Salvo Palazzolo reported on 8 April on mafia’s attempts to recover parts of the national territory by acts of solidarity in favour of the poorest, he has been targeted by a wave of hate messages on social networks coming from Cusimano’s supporters. They called him a “disgusting journalist” and a ”bastard”, claiming “journalists are worse than the coronavirus.”
Italy’s main journalists’ association immediately voiced support for Palazzolo who specializes in covering organized crime and was regularly threatened in the past. At the same time, the local authorities opened an investigation into the distribution of food in the heart of Palermo. Calling on the Italian authorities to reinforce the protection provided to Palazzolo, RSF believes it is more important than ever for journalists to be able to shed light on mafia’s attempts to exploit the current economic and social crisis to extend its influence.
In 2019, Italy was ranked 43th in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.