#22 International Journalism Festival 2009

Media under control of the “Eco-Mafia”?

Environment is the first victim of the interplay between business, political power, and journalism. Citizens’ rights are being tore apart. This is the sad conclusion journalists have drawn from the panel session on environmental journalism at the International Festival of Journalism in Perugia.

By Damiano Razzoli

“Help! There are no newspapers and magazines interested in denouncing illegal toxic waste storage on the Italian country side anymore”.

Andrea Purgatori has been a special reporter for the Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera since 1976. He called for a particular attention to publishers and newspaper owners that make business with environmental contracts. It is not worth to shroud the “Eco-Mafia”, a neologism to describe how criminal organizations, connected to the control rooms that count, have been exploiting the environment and the health of Italian citizens since mid of the 1999s: “In 9 years, 142 million of tons of waste totally disappeared into thin air, as reported by the national observatory of refuse, an institution headed by the Italian Minister of the Environment”, said Giuseppe Ruggieri, director of the documentary Biutiful Cauntri, realized 2008 and based on the recent scandal of urban and industrial waste in Campania.

If environmental journalism on TV and on the press is in crisis, there are other ways to explore and other media to focus on: “Although the Italian media landscape is not really sensitive to the documentary”, Mr Ruggieri confesses, “we have believed in this project to criticise the violence against the earth and against Italians. We have trusted the power of images, besides the one of words, because we wanted to literally punch the audience to the midriff. Industrial and political power tried to silence us affirming our work ruins the image of Campania”. Furthermore, when Ruggieri presented his film in northern Italy, people started apologising for their opinion: “They were believing the waste scandal was a southern Italian problem”, Ruggieri said, “but when they learned that northern Italy had been sending urban and industrial waste in the south, they expressed their gratitude for us raising some awareness for the complexity of the problem”.

The speakers of the session proposed a classification, remembering Giancarlo Siani, a young reporter killed by the Camorra in Naples in the 1980s: “There are journalist journalists and employer journalists” said Giuseppe Ruggiero, who defines himself “a homeless of information”, while Andrea Purgatori added: “Journalists are a problem because they find news and news are a pain in the butt”. Carlo Vulpio, special reporter for Il Corriere della Sera, is even more firm: “Journalism is in agony; newspapers have stopped to focus on news. For example, there is no coverage of what is going on in Taranto, the most polluted city not only in southern Italy, but in Europe, because of Ilva, a steal industry, owned by Riva Group, that produces 92 percent of the dioxin emissions in Italy”. Vulpio calls for a less generic journalism: “We should say the name who is involved in this business; we should stop to be environmentalist professional and to loose credibility”.

Silvie Coyaud, an Italian freelance journalist focusing on scientific issues, said environment is an issue that concerns anybody at any level. Ms Coyaud commented: “Scientific reports are the first to be cut in a period of crisis. In Italy the situation is even worse if we consider that there is no tough verification of the scientific information”. The risk is to give space to “scientific advertisement”, instead of scientific news. “There are a lot of transnational conflicts of interest when you focus on scientific topics. It is not easy to foster your own point of view. In general, the funds for scientific research have been lowered, while the funds for science PR increase,” Mrs Coyaud said.

What can journalists do in this context? “Rediscover the role of ethic, of passion, of love for truth”, Maso Notarianni, editor in chief of Peace Reporter, pointed. “Sometimes I feel journalists find good excuses to free them from their responsibilities, while they should keep reaffirming the importance of this profession for democracy.”

Posted in | 02.04.2009

By: Damiano Razzoli

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