On Mafia’s watch list: Italian women journalists remain strong

Valeria Marchetti – WNN Features

Italian journalist Marilena Natale
Italian woman journalist Marilena Natale is interviewed in her car as she follows the beat with a case on local corruption. Image: FTV

(WNN) Rome, Italy, WESTERN EUROPE: On March 17, 2013 Italy set aside a day to honor and remember all journalists in the country who were brutally killed by members of Italy’s organized crime. Historically known as the Mafia, the journalists who followed leads to investigate these criminal activities have often found themselves on the other side of danger. Others have placed their job, and their family, behind their safety as they ultimately and fatally hurt both themselves and those they love.

The investigative leads have often brought journalists down a layered and prickly path to gangland activities, in spite of warnings and increasing threats.

But there’s something missing in Italy in the list of dead journalists.

All of the journalists listed are men. None of the women who have also lost their lives are listed. Today more women who have yearned to be investigative journalists have jumped in to become reporters on a news beat as, they too, risk their lives to expose the inside world of the Mafia. For numerous years, two of these women journalists portrayed here, have received direct death threats and intimidation by local Italian crime syndicates.

Italian journalists have been targeted by the Mafia for more than 45 years in their efforts to expose the syndicate’s criminal activities. News rooms in Italy have focused on the Mafia crimes as part of a public service, offering ‘the right to know’ to scores of citizens who are often only guessing, or gossiping, about the facts.

Even though the work is not easy Women journalists, too, have been rising in the ranks in news rooms to become part of investigative teams in Italy. But the dangers they face are specific to women.

“In Italy, anyone is at risk who attempts the kind of journalism that doesn’t imply the faithful reproduction of press releases and the publication of one-sided versions of the ‘facts,’ as is any reporter who poses inconvenient but pertinent questions, exercising the journalist’s essential tools: a critical sensibility and independent judgment,” said co-authors Gerardo Adinolfi and Alberto Spampinato in their new February 2013 book release covering Italy’s fearless women investigative journalists called, “Woman Bites Dog. The Mafia’s War on Italian Women Journalists.”

Since 2006 the website, Ossigeno per l’informazione (Oxygen for Information), an Italian NGO – Nongovernmental Organization based in Rome, has counted 1,200 cases of Italian journalists who live and work under threat. Among this number women journalists on the list have been sharply rising. In 2012 sixteen percent of the total amount of journalists who were receiving some type of threat were women.

In any other part of the world journalists watch society. For journalists Mrs. Marilena Natale and Ms. Maria Lusia Mastrogiovanni, society – specifically Mafia society – is watching them.

Marilena Natale

Forty-year-old Ms. Marilena Natale is a crime news journalist for La Gazzetta di Caserta, a local newspaper based in Italy’s beautiful highlands called Alto Casertano. The region is one that seems to live ‘back in time’ as it is made up of a collection of villages with centuries-old families above Naples. It is a region that has long been considered a land where the local Mafia, known locally as the ‘Camorra’, holds final sway over power and wealth.

From a young age, Marilena’s father pushed her to get a university degree in Economic Administration, not journalism. But Marilena had another wish with a direction that would bring her face-to-face with justice.

“I didn’t choose to be a journalist focused on crime news,” she said in a recent one-on-one interview with WNN – Women News Network. “The crime news chose me. When I started to investigate and I saw with my own eyes injustices I couldn’t stop myself to know more and give to my readers what I discovered,” she added.

Tagged constantly as a “pesky journalist” by local Camorra gangsters, Marilena was also known as a rebel woman, far apart from the stereotypical women who make up the wives and daughters of the Camorra.

“While mobsters’s wives and daughters are obedient and always [stay] out of ‘the business’, I am the one who is breaking their [mobster husband’s] criminal plans,” Marilena outlined.

Reporting the activities of the Camorra, as well as any mafia infiltration into institutions connected closely to Italy’s government, caused Marilena to be exposed to death threats, as well as physical violence.

Her articles have on more than one occasion provoked the Camorra’s anger, giving rise to ‘life and death’ dangers.

“Silence [in society] is the best [of the] Camorra’s weapon[s],” outlined Marilena to WNN. “I dare to take off the lid of their secret crime and I pay the price for this,” she continued.

On the day when local anti-Mafia police investigators, using wiretaps and surveillance, heard mobsters discussing how to silence Natale in revenge for her news reports about their illegal activities, the police decided to give her a police escort.

Italian journalist Maria Luisa Mastrogiovanni
Italian woman journalist Maria Luisa Mastrogiovanni moderates a local mayoral race in the town of Lecce. She is one of the journalists who has been watched closely by the ‘Camorra’, the local crime syndicate mob that operates in the region in the southeast peninsula of Italy. Image: WMV

Despite these and other threats, since early this year Marilena has decided to give up her police protection only because she does not want to endanger her protectors.

“If [the] Camorra wants to kill me it is not fair that also my body guards must die with me,” she explains.

Maria Luisa Mastrogiovanni

Mrs. Maria Luisa Mastrogiovanni, is the forty-three-year-old Founder and Editor-in-Chief for Il Tacco D’Italia, a newspaper based in the town of Casarano, in a region located in southeastern peninsula of Italy in the province of Lecce.

Maria Luisa is also a journalistic freelancer for numerous well known Italian newspapers, such as Il Fatto Quotidiano, Il Manifesto, Il sole 24 Ore and Narcomafie, a social justice reporting group exclusively highlighting corruption and organized crime activities in Italy. Like her fellow journalist Marilena, Maria Luisa has the unwelcome distinction among Italian women journalists in Italy to be constantly watched by Italian mobsters.

Her reports focus most strongly on The Sacra Corona Unita, United Sacred Crown, an organized crime mob located throughout the southern region of Apulia bordering the Adriatic Sea. Much of their illegal business is related to garbage disposal and real estate speculation, but illegal activities run the gamut from drug trafficking and illegal immigration, to pornography and illegal gambling. These activities also include much more ominous services.

In spite of her investigative skills Maria Luisa believes that most mobsters ‘underestimate’ her strong convictions and sense of justice because she is a woman.

“They thought it would be easy to intimidate a woman,” says Mastrogiovanni. “They were wrong.”

Since 2004, when the website ‘Il Tacco D’Italia’ was set up, Maria Luisa’s investigative inquiries brought unwanted attention and intimidation from mobsters.

“Every time I have published an article involving the Mafia’s business I always receive anonymous intimidating calls,” she recently shared.

In 2008 the Mafia tried to stop her investigative reports killing her best source for inside information Mr. Giuseppe Basile.

More recently, Maria Luisa was threatened by what she says was ‘the daughter of a Godfather’ with a threatening post made on Facebook. The post, directly addressed to the Italian woman journalist, had a short, but disturbing message: “God’s justice will punish you.”

Some of those on Facebook might think that the bickering has been relegated to a ‘religious matter’, but it’s important to remember, outlines Maria Luisa, the Sacra Corona Unita was set up to represent what they conceptualize as ‘the embodiment of God’s will’.

For this reason Maria Luisa promptly reported the Facebook threat to the police.

“Who threatened me is a woman like me, a mother like me. We are just on the opposite side of the battlefield,” outlined Maria Luisa. “She is protecting the Mafia’s business and I am reporting them,” she confided.

As a working married mother of two, Maria Luisa has decided to stay in her native region of Puglia, a region that gives mobsters easy access to her and her family. She is doing this despite showing up prominently on the Sacra Corona Unita hit list.

Living under the shadow of the Mafia’s threats is something I have to cope [with] every day,” she outlines.”Being a journalist, it’s not only my job but also my mission,” Mastrogiovanni added.

“There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by
secrecy. Get these things out in the open, describe them, attack them, ridicule them in the press, and sooner or later public opinion will
sweep them away,” said Joseph Pulitzer, acclaimed American journalist and news publisher, who’s life later inspired the Pulitzer Prize.

With courage, resolve, stubbornness and a deep love of truth and justice, these women journalists are guarding the public sphere with their life in efforts to report what they feel must be reported.

“The [women] reporters who are the subject of Women Bites Dog continue their work notwithstanding their solitude or the enormous obstacles they must face as countless other journalists do likewise every day: They carry out their jobs with determination, bravery and a sense of social commitment,” says authors Gerardo Adinolfi and Alberto Spampinato.

In early 2009 tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Naples, Italy to call for an end to the mafia’s hold on the region. Mrs. Silvana Fucito runs a hardware store in Naples and says she knows the effect organized crime can have. When the local mafia visited her store demanding money, she decided to speak out against them with courage, risking her business, her life and the lives of her family as well. This video is a production of Al Jazeera news in Naples.


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Freelance correspondent Valeria Marchetti is a online and broadcasting journalist who studied her trade in London and has worked for numerous news publications including local Rome, Italy newspaper Nero Se Bianco. Marchetti has also worked as a radio reporter for Radio Vaticana at the Vatican in addition to working as a freelance video journalist. Dedicated to investigative reporting on social justice and women she is currently based in Rome.


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