Emiliano Fittipaldiwho works for the left-wing daily newspaper Domani, and its editor Stefano Feltri accused of twisting facts in an article last year that suggested Meloni had tried to help a friend win a government contract during the coronavirus pandemic.
Meloni, whose far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, rejected the claim and sued.
A judge in Rome ruled last week that the case should go to trial, Fittipaldi said. Meloni’s lawyer confirmed that the date was set for July 10, 2024.
“I only reported true news,” Fittipaldi told AFP on Tuesday, adding that he and Domani would continue to report on the government, including on “thorny” issues.
The decision to go to trial coincided with the opening day of a trial that pitted Meloni against investigative journalist and anti-mafia author Roberto Saviano, who faces libel charges over an outburst over her stance on migrants.
Saviano, Fittipaldi and Feltri all face up to three years in prison if convicted.
Watchdogs say such trials are symbolic of a culture in Italy in which public figures intimidate reporters with repeated lawsuits, threatening the erosion of a free press.
Fittipaldi, known for exposing shady affairs inside the Vatican, said being indicted “is the norm” for investigative journalists in Italy, and “fortunately I’ve always won”.
“But it is the first time I will stand trial against a prime minister, who has gigantic power compared to an opposition journalist,” he said.
Meloni disagreed with Fittipaldi’s article in Domani about an investigation into the purchase of masks by the government commissioner for Covid-19.
The paper said Commissioner Domenico Arcuri told investigators that Meloni had been copied in an email bid for the tender.
It reported that Meloni had also called Arcuri ahead of the email offer, saying she had “put in a good word” for a friend.
According to Domani, Meloni confirmed she called but denied trying to influence the offer.
Her lawsuit against Fittipaldi and Feltri charges them with “plotting to produce a misleading and defamatory headline,” the paper said.
The bid was made by Fabio Pietrella, a member of parliament from the Brothers of Italy.
Meloni’s lawyer, Luca Libra, told AFP the trial was “an expected outcome in light of an article expertly crafted to raise defamatory and baseless allegations.”
In 2017, the most recent available data from the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) showed that nearly 9,500 defamation proceedings have been launched against journalists in Italy.
Media defamation is punishable in Italy by imprisonment from six months to three years.
But Italy’s Constitutional Court in 2020 and 2021 urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying imprisonment for such cases is unconstitutional and should only be used in cases of “exceptional gravity”.