Our Italian media partner, il Fatto Quotidiano, has received a nice present under the tree: a libel suit from energy giant Eni, seeking damages to the tune of €350,000.
The novelty is that it’s not one article in particular that is the focus of the lawsuit, but 29 pieces indicated as being disparaging and defamatory, which the company alleges could cause damage to its image. The lawsuit does not include a fine (of an amount that is yet to be defined) to be paid by the editor of il Fatto Quotidiano and a ridiculous ‘restitution of the unlawful enrichment’ that the Italian newspaper stands to obtain for the mere act of writing about Eni.
And then, of course, comes the final request for censorship: remove all articles on il Fatto‘s website about Eni that are unwelcome to Eni. Boom!
Let’s go in order. The Italian energy giant — which the state has a 30% stake in and which had a turnover of €70 billion in 2019 — is not angry at a single article. In 63 pages of civil summons, it cites up to 29 articles, along with enquiries, political reports, speeches, comments, and even court records and calendars from the Italian newspaper.
Most of the ‘incriminatory’ articles concern a trial for international corruption, underway in Milan, regarding a bribe of €1 billion, paid by Eni to Nigerian authorities in 2011 in order to obtain the Opl 245 oil field. The hearings of this trial have all been followed and reported by journalists at il Fatto, in addition to the paper’s coverage of an ongoing investigation — also in Milan — for contracts of around €300 million, awarded to foreign companies, traceable to the wife of the current CEO, Claudio Descalzi.
“These are facts that are normal to follow,” says the newspaper in a statement, “given that we are dealing with a company that is still 30% public and plays such an important strategic role in Italy and the world.”
But that’s not all. In recent months, il Fatto has written numerous virulent articles and editorials about the much-debated reappointment of CEO Descalzi as head of Eni, openly taking sides against his candidacy.
“You cannot confirm Descalzi at Eni,” former deputy editor Stefano Feltri wrote in an editorial on February 19 2020, appealing to Prime Minister Conte and Finance Minister Gualtieri not to confirm a manager (Descalzi) as the head of such an important company, not least because of its geopolitical relations with strategic countries such as Libya, Nigeria and Congo, with two judicial investigations underway and a serious conflict of interest to resolve.
But on May 14, Descalzi was confirmed as Eni’s CEO for the next three years. And in December came the Christmas gift for il Fatto Quotidiano.
“Our newspaper has not made ‘political propaganda’, has not conducted a ‘denigrating and defamatory campaign’, but has exercised the right-duty of information and control over public goods guaranteed by the Constitution,” said il Fatto‘s Director, Marco Travaglio, to Investigate Europe. “It is called journalism, evidently unbearable for Eni, which is used to being treated with reverence by the press in the name of the ‘national interest’ and the huge advertising investments distributed to newspapers and TV.”
The world of NGOs has also expressed its solidarity with il Fatto Quotidiano: “Freedom of thought and of the press, the duty to report news and the courage to tell stories that often no one else does, are sacrosanct principles of a healthy democracy,” reads a statement by Greenpeace. “All too often, however, attempts are made, even through lawsuits, to silence dissent through fear of sanctions or huge claims for compensation. An attitude that Greenpeace considers even more unacceptable if we consider that 30% of Eni belongs to the State.”
Greenpeace recalls how it too has already been the subject of a SLAPP, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, which it won in 2019. Although often based on unfounded allegations, these SLAPPs aim to discourage public protest by hitting the pockets of the parties involved.
The online newspaper EUobserver, another Investigate Europe media partner, has also recently been the subject of a SLAPP, launched in June by the intelligence company Sandstone. This was in response to an allegation by the newspaper that Sandstone had played a part in the disinformation campaign surrounding the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017.
Investigate Europe stands in solidarity with its colleagues at il Fatto Quotidiano and EUobserver and will continue to produce journalistic investigations dealing with companies such as Eni, criticising their actions if necessary, as we have already done in the case of Eni’s investments in Mozambique.
Eni did not respond to our request for comments.