Domani journalist Francesca de Benedetti: “for the EU to enjoy the trust of its citizens, it needs to play a pioneering role on the democratic front”

, by Jacopo Barbati

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

Domani journalist Francesca de Benedetti: “for the EU to enjoy the trust of its citizens, it needs to play a pioneering role on the democratic front”
Francesca de Benedetti, credit: Francesca de Benedetti

TNF supports JEF-Europe’s campaign #DemocracyUnderPressure that this year will take place from the 18th to the 25th of March.

Jacopo Barbati - TNF (JB): I would like to thank, on behalf of The New Federalist, Francesca De Benedetti, journalist at Domani, for agreeing to give us this interview. I would ask you to introduce your work, also because Domani is a quite recent editorial initiative, and what you, Francesca, are responsible for within this magazine.

Francesca De Benedetti - Domani (FDB): Domani was born in the midst of the pandemic and the editorial staff began to meet in July 2020, with the first issue dating back to 15 September of that year. Domani is a newspaper with a solid editor behind it, but completely new in many respects: first of all, it was born with the aim of being digital first, so all our articles are first conceived for digital distribution. Then of course there is also a daily printed edition and a series of spin-offs: from the geopolitics magazine ’Scenari’ to the one dedicated to fiction called ‘Finzioni’ and so on. One of the characteristics of our magazine is also that of having a solid team of investigative journalists. Some of them were the pillars of ’L’Espresso’ in the good old days, now they work for Domani and so the fact of having such a solid team working on investigations makes us, also in the positive sense of the term, an ‘inconvenient’ and completely independent newspaper. I deal in particular with European politics and rule of law, so I follow the European resonances of the press freedom issues that our newspaper is dealing with. And then of course we also have the Domani journalists’ trade union, which I’m part of, that is active on this front too.

JB: An ’inconvenient’ newspaper - in a positive sense - that recently suffered an event that you yourself described as ‘unusual’: can we talk about it?

FDB: Yes, let’s say that while a single episode may be an exception, the recurrence of attacks under the Meloni era on our newspaper makes us a particularly interesting subject. I was talking about this the other day with the Secretary General of the European Federation of Journalists, whose name is Ricardo Gutiérrez, who told me that in some ways we should consider these attacks as a badge of honour. The problem is that intimidating gestures towards a newspaper, however strongly independent as ours is, still sends a negative signal to the whole category. What has happened? First of all, in November we brought to light an almost unprecedented issue, namely that of a Prime Minister in office suing the director and deputy director [of Domani, ed]. And it is an attitude that Meloni has, since the same type of lawsuit has also been brought against intellectual figures such as Roberto Saviano, and specifically last autumn the Prime Minister carried out what is now customary in Europe to call SLAPP [Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, ed.]. All the media freedom organisations were mobilised on this action, but it was not enough. There was a second episode that took place a few days ago: Undersecretary Claudio Durigon, who had already had to resign from the Draghi government and who was brought back to the government by Meloni, filed a lawsuit concerning an article published by my colleagues Giovanni Tizian and Nello Trocchia, and the carabinieri [1] went to the editorial office to seize what for them had become the corpus delicti, namely our article. In fact, the article was public online, so the European Federation of Journalists, Media Freedom Rapid Response and all the realities that monitor the state of freedom of information, agree in considering excessive, and therefore intimidating, this type of intervention, with the carabinieri intervening to seize the article, which was already public.

JB: You have made this fact public. What reactions have there been from Italian politics and beyond?

FDB: We have seen broad solidarity from our Italian colleagues at various levels, hence from the FNSI, [2] the Ordine dei Giornalisti, [3] Articolo 21, the editorial boards of Il Fatto Quotidiano and Report, who have all delivered their support and solidarity. But it must be said that on the political front the Meloni government is silent and we hope that somehow they will awaken, from its torpor, the initiatives that are moving at the European level - on this front, there are many indeed. First of all, I would like to point out that there is a joint press release from important media freedom organisations: the European Federation of Journalists, Article 19, Articolo 21, the Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, the International Press Institute, The Good Lobby Italia, Greenpeace Italia, the Anti-SLAPP Coalition called The Case Coalition. [4] In short, all these realities that are mobilised have called for these SLAPPs to be withdrawn and possibly also for the legislation on defamation to be reformed, as far as the Italian case is concerned; but this is not enough. In fact, we are seeing solidarity from the entire progressive arc of the European Parliament. The Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ’t Veld, who has been in the EP for 20 years now and is held in cross-party esteem across all political groups, has been particularly active on the case. She formalised a question earlier this week [March 13th, ed] in which she addresses the European Commission and asks it to substantially condemn the attacks on the freedom of the press by the Meloni government and urges Brussels to intervene, as the European Commission is active on at least two dossiers these days: the Media Freedom Act and the anti-SLAPP initiative. So Sophie in ’t Veld asks the Commission not to fear and react when these SLAPPs concern a PM or a government. And even Guy Verhofstadt, the long-time federalist, former Belgian PM and Liberal MEP commented on my thread about the case saying ’this is the real face of Meloni’. Even Financial Times columnists like Gideon Rachman were baffled; and then from the Greens, the Social Democrats, the European Left came reactions, for example Germany’s Green MEP Alexandra Geese mobilised on the case. We have received expressions of solidarity from Vice-President Picierno, Delegation Leader [of the Partito Democratico in the EP, ed] Benifei, and Manon Aubry, the leader of The Left Group in the European Parliament, who today [15 March, ed] delivered a message of solidarity, stigmatising what she considers to be attacks, not only on media freedom, but on the rule of law tout court.

JB: As you probably know, JEF-Europe has been promoting this campaign called Democracy Under Pressure for several years now with the aim of sensitising Europeans to not lower their guard against the erosion of democratic spaces that is taking place in Europe. In the light of your experience as investigative journalists, have you noticed an erosion of the democratic space in Italy in recent months or years, perhaps even going beyond your own experience in Domani?

FDB: I have long been monitoring the erosion of the rule of law in countries like Hungary and Poland and I have always underlined the EU’s slowness to intervene, and now I find myself in the paradoxical experience of finding Hungarian colleagues, such as the European sentinel of the Committee to Protect Journalists - called Attila Mong - who are mobilising for us, so I think we are going through a sort of Italian ’Orbanization’. I think that without a doubt the rule of law has been eroded and, actually, this obviously goes beyond the case of Domani. I observe a series of episodes, for example the case of the “rave decree” right at the beginning of the Meloni government which, if it had not been for the pressure to amend that measure, could have been a concrete limitation on the freedom to protest and demonstrate. So there is no erosion that only concerns the media, but in general an attempt to erode the power of civil society. On this there is a trait d’union between what Meloni is doing and what is being done at European level, for example the attempts to criminalise NGOs. We see it in Italy, where NGOs are prevented from rescuing migrants, but we also see it at European level with the European People’s Family led by Manfred Weber who, for example in reaction to Qatargate, first attacked NGOs. It is no coincidence that Weber and Meloni are discussing a tactical alliance ahead of the European elections. So there are absolutely resonances between the two levels, national and European.

JB: Since most of our readers are not Italian, I would like to expand more on the reasoning just made on the European situation. What is the impression as a journalist focused on these dynamics, after a few years in which even independent organisations such as Freedom House have certified a decline in democratic rating indexes in almost all European countries?

FDB: Let’s start with the constructive aspect: I led Domani within a group of nine European media, among which there is also, for example, the historic French newspaper Libération, there is Gazeta Wyborcza, there is Balkan Insight, there is the German Tagesspiegel, the Estonian Delfi, in short, a broad parterre of European media within a weekly content co-production project called “European Focus” - to which I invite you to subscribe because it also comes to you free of charge by email as a newsletter - and this pan-European cooperation effort serves precisely to stem the assaults on democracy. We believe that the media have a fundamental role to play in coaxing public opinion and civil societies in front of a European Union that on the one hand assumes more management powers, but on the other hand continues to have democratic vulnerabilities. I happened, for example, to follow issues such as the mediation for the joint purchase of vaccines [against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, ed], which were handled rather opaquely by the European Commission. It took the mobilisation of MEPs and organisations such as the Corporate Europe Observatory - which monitors the influence of lobbies - to shake Brussels out of its attitude of opacity, which ombudsman Emily O’Reilly later defined ’maladministration’. Let us say that Qatargate is only the most striking case; however, for the EU to enjoy the trust of its citizens, it needs to play a pioneering role on the democratic front. Over the past few years, the European Commission had actually turned a blind eye even to Orbán’s drifts, and only recently, with the application of the rule of law conditionality mechanism, we have seen the first reactions; but in the meantime, all the other countries have perceived inertia, inaction. So we saw that what Orbán had done to the media [in Hungary, ed] then extended to Poland and the Balkans: therefore, when you give signals of weakness, the cascade effect applies to all. And here I come back to the question of freedom of information: precisely for this reason it is important to give solidarity to Domani now, precisely because the danger is not only for us, but also for all media that risk an attitude of self-censorship. What Sophie in ’t Veld calls in her question the ’chilling effect’, i.e. the effect of inhibiting the freedom of others too, not just our own.


[1Italy’s national gendarmerie.

[2Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana - Italian National Press Federation

[3Italy’s professional order for journalists.

Your comments

Warning, your message will only be displayed after it has been checked and approved.

Who are you?

To show your avatar with your message, register it first on (free et painless) and don’t forget to indicate your Email addresse here.

Enter your comment here

This form accepts SPIP shortcuts {{bold}} {italic} -*list [text->url] <quote> <code> and HTML code <q> <del> <ins>. To create paragraphs, just leave empty lines.

Follow the comments: RSS 2.0 | Atom