Death and violence scarred a meeting of world leaders in Genoa, Italy in 2001, marking the height of two decades of protests against globalization.
By Nelson Graves
Death and violence scarred a meeting of world leaders in 2001 that marked the height of two decades of protests against globalization.
Reuters produced a world-class scoop at the Group of Eight summit in Italy. But I’m just as proud of what went on behind closed doors in a prosecutor’s office the day after the exclusive.
Reuters sent dozens of journalists to the Riviera port of Genoa. We knew protesters would converge to send a defiant message against corporate capitalism and free trade. Earlier demonstrations at gatherings in Seattle and Washington had led to clashes between no-global protesters and police. The violence had escalated with each encounter.
Girding for the worst, Italian authorities erected an iron barricade around the heart of Genoa to protect the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United States and host Italy.
On July 20, while officials including George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin met in the 13th century Palazzo Ducal, thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets outside the “Red Zone”. Some protesters shattered the windows of retailers and banks. Phalanxes of riot police fired tear gas.
In the late afternoon, demonstrators clashed with police in Piazza Alimonda. A group of protesters with metal and wooden poles broke the windows of a jeep carrying carabinieri. Holding a red fire extinguisher above his head and wearing a black balaclava, Carlo Giuliani approached the jeep. A carabiniere fired two shots, and Giuliani fell to the ground, blood gushing from his head. The jeep ran over Giuliani’s body as it rushed away.
One of our photographers, Dylan Martinez, had spent the sweltering day following protesters through the streets. An uncanny sense led him to the square where he captured on his still camera Giuliani’s last living moments and his body spread-eagled on the ground.
Dylan called me at the press center, where as Italy bureau chief I was helping lead Reuters’s coverage. He dictated the words that told the world a protester had died – the first death during an anti-globalization demonstration.
We were alone with the photos and first with the world’s biggest story of the day.
Predictably, the prosecutor handling Giuliani’s case summoned Dylan to his office. I had experienced this before: authorities investigating a suspected crime call you in, hoping you’ll tell them what happened.
Reuters’s policy was difficult for even our pin-striped lawyers to understand: in disputes involving others, Reuters does not provide evidence beyond what is in the public domain. That means not providing testimony that helps one side or another.
The policy, forged by more than 160 years of covering the world’s bloodiest events, protects the independence of Reuters journalists, many of whom operate where a whiff of favoritism can lead to death.
I briefed Dylan on the policy before we met prosecutor Silvio Franz. Still on a high from his scoop, Dylan would be tempted to answer the prosecutor’s questions and could fall into a trap.
Franz ushered Dylan and me into his sun-splashed office the afternoon following Giuliani’s death. We spent hours parrying a tsunami of questions from a puzzled Franz. What happened at Piazza Alimonda? What did Giuliani do? Who pulled the trigger?
Our sole answer: What we know is what you see in our photographs and news story.
Franz eventually grasped our stance. Knowing other witnesses would not be bound by Reuters’s policy, he let us go with a handshake and “Grazie.”
I was proud of our scoop and relieved Dylan would not become a pawn in Italy’s infamously opaque judicial system. Above all, I was glad we had upheld a vital Reuters principle.
Nelson Graves is an educator and administrator who has taught and worked as a journalist on three continents. Between 1986 and 2007 he served as a correspondent, bureau chief and regional managing editor at Reuters, holding posts in Washington, Paris, New Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, Milan and Tokyo. He then was the director of admissions at Johns Hopkins University’s graduate program international relations in Europe. He is founder of the News-Decoder service for young adults interested in foreign affairs.