Precarious Journalism: Breaking Silence against the Mafia

Investigative journalism has an important mission as it unveils the deftly covered subjects by the dark factions of society. Defending the commons and serving the public ethics for a better society are distinctive practices of an investigative journalist whose reformative struggle aims to inform the degenerated public culture. However, exposing 'dangerous information' comes at a huge price. If the particular case is journalism and the mafia in Italy, we need to remember Giuseppe Fava who is one of the most important Sicilian journalists assassinated by the mafia. When Giuseppe Fava declared that the mafia is in the parliament in his last interview above, he violated the limits of the Sicilian mafia and was shot in Catania shortly after this interview.

The recent report of the antimafia commission in Italy tragically announced that three journalists are threatened by the mafia in every two days. The chair of the commission, Rosy Bindi, reported that "there were 2,060 such attacks between 2006 and October 31 2014, with a steady increase that peaked in the first 10 months of 2014 when 421 acts of violence and intimidation took place."

The Guardian also covered the alarming case and shared the thoughts of Federico Varese, a prominent authority on mafia studies. Varese put forth that "investigative journalists, coupled with strong and independent prosecutors, were essential for any society fighting organised crime. Comparing Italy’s situation with Mexico’s, he said it was important that in Italy there was – at least – an ongoing fight against the power of the mafia, even if the effort was “inefficient and not great”.

The last week before his death, Fava was the guest of Enzo Biagi’s TV programme on Retequattro on December 28, 1983. Fava was one of the few people who boldly and fearlessly denounced the criminal networks, the names of the mafiosi and the changing character of the mafia in Sicily in his era. In his last interview with Enzo Biagi, Fava’s dauntless claims once again created discomfort for the leading mafiosi figures in a national programme. He uttered: “Mafiosi are in the parliament, sometimes they are ministers, sometimes they are bankers, mafiosi are those who are in charge of the nation right now. You cannot define “mafioso” as a small time crook who forces you to pay a cut of your small business. This is a small stuff that exists in all Italian cities, in all European cities. The problem of the mafia is much greater, much more tragic.”

The assassination of Fava was not a prophetic outcome. His attacks against the mafias’ expanding power in Catania reached its peak in the early 1980s when different mafia groups increased its illicit revenues through their entrepreneurial skills and collaborations with the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Perhaps, the article of Fava, entitled I quattro cavalieri dell'apocalisse mafiosa -“The four horsemen of the mafia apocalypse”-, should be noted as a milestone that paved the way for his murder. Fava publicly denounced the mafias’ social and political networks in Catania. The article was published in I Siciliani on January 1, 1983 and revealed the dark networks of the Santapaola clan, which was the notorious mafia syndicate of Catania at that time. The mafia wars in Sicily and the murders of the prominent names in the early 1980s prevailed despondency among Sicilians. The ruthless power of the mafia clans was rife when the hitman of Nitto Santapaola killed the general Carlo Alberto dalla Chiesa, the most powerful official in the anti-mafia fight, on September 3, 1982. After this shocking murder, it was discernible that Fava was not a challenging name for Nitto Santapaola to issue his death certificate by the hitman Maurizio Avola who was the nephew of Santapaola. However, it took more than ten years to learn the perpetrators behind the assassination of Giuseppe Fava. On May 18, 1993, Nitto Santapaola was arrested. This incarceration followed the decision of Maurizio Avola to be a pentito, in other words a collaborator with the justice system who repents and decides to confess after his or her arrest. Eventually, he confessed the murder of Giuseppe Fava and the names behind his death warrant. Fava’s slaying was truly a demoralizing incident among his fellow Sicilians who shared the very same principles with him for the future of their homelands. Yet, on the other hand, his death has spurred new ethical codes, which were the guiding principles of Fava, to rule the polity and shape the public realm.

When Giuseppe Fava dared to stand against the mafia, this was something new in the brooding social atmosphere of the 1970s and the early 1980s. Today, hundredths of local journalists in Italy are following the ethical codes of Fava. On the one hand, their struggle is the harbinger that explains why we should be hopeful about the future of the country and defiance of the mafia. On the other hand, the increasing threats against them and many times lack of sources to protect each threatened journalist create hopelessness. This contradiction brings precarious journalism to the fore and reminds us that a long and formidable path is awaiting us to make our dreams come true by persistently destroying the walls of injustice and constituting a renewed society. As it happened in the past, the mafia will use similar methods to scourage and oppress the journalists who break codes of silence and expose the grim realities of the mafia. The dispiriting context, which we need to change, is the tragic combination of public silence with the state dysfunctionality. This poisonous combination erodes the public sphere in which socially committed and investigative journalism can be practised. Repeating the same mistakes will consolidate the mafia's social and cultural status as a malevolent power. Yet the rule of darkness is not the destiny of our lives and our unspeakable agony has the capacity to bring a permanent defeat to the mafia.