Rubina Möhring, chair of Reporters Without Borders Austria.

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How can a journalist have freedom of expression when he's paid from 2 to 20 euros per article? An Italian drama.

“We are concerned about the ‘Berlusconization’ of the Italian press and especially about the poor working conditions of journalists in this country. Can you imagine what it means to be paid 8 euro per article?”
Rubina Möhring has long been one of the most popular television journalists in her country, Austria. Today she chairs the Austrian bureau of Reporters Without Borders and has decided to create an award, the Press Freedom Award, which each year chooses a different country in order to award some of its journalists. In 2012 the selected country was Italy, and I was the winner together with my young and brilliant colleague Alessia Cerantola. My article reports on the Saharawi women victims of torture and illegal imprisonment in Western Sahara; Alessia wrote a disquieting investigation about the dramatic situation in which Italian freelance journalists have to live and work in.

Yesterday, at the award ceremony in Wien, Rubina Möhring mentioned that absurd income of 8 euro per piece. But soon after Alessia Cerantola - which is expert in Japan affairs, fluent in Japanese language and English, gets along well also with Chinese, participates every year in international workshops and conferences, has even promoted an association of journalists who hunts journalist grants all over the world in order to self-finance good investigations and reports - earns 2 euro a piece.
Four euro gross, two net. Whatever the length or the complexity of the articles she regularly publishes on an Italian local newspaper.
We spent two wonderful days together in a snowy Wien before Christmas, telling us about our passions and our daily struggle to reach something that in many professions, even in times of crisis, remains obvious: being able to earn of our job. Much or little money, but affording to live.
Alessia’s article begins with the story of a journalist in the South of Italy, Pierpaolo Faggiano, who last year has hanged himself from a tree. He was 41. He had written a letter explaining that he could not live any longer “eking out no more than 20 euro per article.” As a result of this suicide, many Italian journalists have begun to blame the wicked Italian journalism environment that protects only a small number of paid employees while forcing others to survive on meagre incomes.”
Obviously, the finger is pointed against those media oulets that use underpaid freelancers as regular contributors.
“The protest - continues Alessia - also drew attention to the old-fashioned and gerontocratic Italian media and blamed it for undermining high-quality journalism through the wide practice of nepotism in the recruiting process of journalists.”
Her article also mentions a survey made by the Italian Journalist Guild, that highlights how our online newspapers usually pay 2 to 20 euro a piece. The TV channels don’t behave much better: here, the average for journalists who film, mount, write the script and record the voice-over, is around 12 euro.
The independent organization LSDI recently launched the latest report on the state of the journalist job in Italy. I went to re-read it, and it says strange things. For instance: while in all the western world journalists have been decreasing in number (and it’s more than logical, given the black crisis of the media industry), in Italy they continue to increase for some mysterious reason. Today there are over 112 thousand journalists in my country, which means three times more than the French colleagues and twice than in Great Britain. Only 45 percent of us, however, is officially active in their job and only one in five has a contract of employment, “earning - the research states - five times more than a freelance and 6.4 times more than a freelance with a contract. Meanwhile, the regular contracts of employment are inexorably declining (5.1% less since 2008) and the average age of the employed journalists is growing.”
I won’t write at length about how much is important, in a democratic country longing for freedom of expression, to have a category of independent and good reporters and journalists. And it’s impossible to stay free and independent when you earn 2 euros per piece: you can easily become victim of blackmails by your publishers, you're really too weak. You'r nobody. 
We, freelancers of the news, are facing an absurdity so glaring, that I want to believe that this economic crisis will have at least the merit to disintegrate this logic reeking of putrefaction, so that a new system can rise from its ashes.
I’m not able to trace the features of this new system, not even stressing my strong imagination. Maybe it’s because - as Alessia made me notice, gently though - I used to have a salary, a welfare unemployment assistance, even reimbursements for medical expenses and reimbursements for my travel expenses. I used to have all these comfortable stuff but one day I chose to come back out of the system. It’s typical of myself. I’m recalcitrant. So now I definitely don’t complain about my choice and the hard economic situation it has caused me, because the choice to be free is still giving me big and small joys. But I think that in the only country in the world - along with Portugal - which has a professional Guild of journalists, the asphyxiated freelancers' situation sounds like a double nonsense.
Alessia was crying, at the end of her speech during the award ceremony in Wien. Watching and listening to her, I thought that her tears were flowing out from a vertigo: the chasm between being there, holding a magnificent bouquet of flowers in our hands and a certificate that rewards our “excellent work as investigative and critic journalists,” and her 2 euro a piece. Her difficulty to be recognized in her country just like a professional journalist. My same effort. And so I cried too.

With Christophe Deloire, director of Reporters Without Borders International (left), Rubina, Domenico Affinito of RWB Italy, Eva Nowotny of UNESCO and Alessia Cerantola.

Meanwhile, as I was on a train writing down these lines about the most prestigious award I've ever received (that maybe in another country will open to me many job opportunities, but of course not in Italy where the value of a journalist is measured by something else), and about the painful contradictions that this made me grow up inside, I realized that a guy was sitting in front of me.
“So you're a writer?” ha asked. “I heard you talking on the phone before... ".
"No, I am a journalist."
"I used to be a journalist too," the stranger said, “but then I stopped, I could not afford to live. Does anyone publish you?” he asked suddenly.
"Yes, so far" I replied.
"And do they pay you?".
"Yes, so far."

I wish I had the gift of reading the coincidences in order to sew them up and embroider them into small squares which can be coherent and illuminating. Prophetic, even.

Press Freedom Award on Italian and international press:


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