January 25, 2016 - Updated on March 8, 2016

RSF outraged by Italian police raids on TV broadcasters

Sidestepping Italian law protecting journalists’ sources, Rome police acting at the behest of judges have on two occasions in recent weeks seized the raw video recordings of investigative TV reporters with the aim of identifying their sources. The police got round the law by ordering executive or administrative personnel at the TV stations to hand over the material, not the reporters themselves. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is outraged that Italian judicial officials have encouraged these violations of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

The latest raid was carried by members of a national police unit called the Division for General Investigation and Special Operations (DIGOS), who swooped on the offices of La7’s Piazza Pulita programme on 12 January and ordered administrative staff, not journalists, to surrender raw video and other investigative material

The raid was ordered by the Rome prosecutor’s office at Italian police chief Alessandro Pansa’s request.

The seized material was used to make a report entitled “Terrorist alert: Are the security forces equipped?” that questioned the ability of the Italian police to combat terrorism. Broadcast in November, after the latest Paris attacks, it included interviews with police officers who, speaking anonymously, complained about the run-down state of their equipment (including helmets and bulletproof vests) and their “vulnerability” to terrorists.

After copying all the seized video footage, including rushes, the police returned it to the TV station.

Under a 1963 law known as Law 69, journalists can refuse to reveal their sources if their sources have asked to be protected. But the law has a major flaw. It applies only to the journalists themselves, and not to the administrative or executive personnel at the news media concerned.

“There are those who break the law and those who the bend the rules,” the National Order of Italian Journalists said in a communiqué on the same day as the raid. “It is really remarkable that the Rome prosecutor’s office has obtained information that journalists could rightfully refuse to reveal under the law.”

“The police claim that the officers who gave interviews on condition of anonymity lied to the journalists and showed them equipment that is no longer used,” said Alexandra Geneste, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans bureau in Brussels. “Whatever the facts of the matter, nothing justifies the use of such procedures to circumvent the principle of the confidentiality of sources.”

At the end of November, the RAI programme Ballaro made the mistake of broadcasting a report on the same subject produced by a different team of journalists. As a result, the TV station was also raided by a team of police officers who ordered employees to surrender all the raw video used to prepare the report.

Geneste added: “There were two police sources, two men whose identity the journalists took care to protect, who were simply ‘handed over’ to the National Police because it was enraged about the damage to its image resulting from their interviews. This constitutes a grave threat to freedom of information.”

La7’s lawyers said the “brutal manner” in which the police behaved is becoming more widespread. In some cases, if journalists persist in defending their sources, they may be charged with “false testimony.”

Italy is ranked 73rd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.