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Italian journalists and opposition against "gag" law PDF Print E-mail
May 24, 2010 at 05:43 PM

Italian journalists are up in arms against a new government sponsored bill that would sharply restrict coverage of criminal cases and the publication of wiretaps. Italian journalists demonstrated against the measure Monday afternoon in the hopes of obtaining significant amendments to a draft bill currently under discussion in the Italian senate.

The new law, if passed, would prohibit news organs from reporting on criminal cases until just before the case is ready to go to trial and the relev ant judicial documents have been made available to both the prosecution and the defense. The Italian journalists' guild (of which I am a member) said last week it would appeal to the appropriate European institutions to protest against the move. The satellite news channel Sky Italia which is owned by Australian press magnate Rupert Murdoch, said it would "appeal to all competent authorities, including the European Court of Human Rights", against what it called "a grave attack on freedom of information". And several Italian publishers have also signed a petition against the bill.

Critics of the proposed law, which sets both fines and,in some cases, jail terms for publishers and journalists, say that if it were already in effect, the Italian public would have no information on a kickback scandal that exploded in February and which has already led to the r, esignation of one cabinet minister. Since the law also would sharply limit the number of wiretaps (which are authorized here much more frequently than in the U.S. or the U.K.)l they also claim that the fight against the Mafia could be seriously hampered.

The government, on the other hand, says the bill is aimed at stopping the rampant publication of wiretaps even when they involve people who are not under investigation or the private (but not criminal) affairs of people who are. It also says the measures would bring Italy into line with other European countries such as Britain where pre-trial reporting is more strictly regulated. Last week, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said "too many Italians have suffered the barbaric appearance of details of their private lives on the front pages of newspapers. This barbaric practice has to be stopped".

The opposition says a much less drastic bill could be used to stop the invasion of privacy of people not implicated in judicial investigations, arguing that as currently written the measure is excessive and could hinder probes into corruption and organized crime. Some legal experts claim the bill, as now written, would make it too hard to obtain authorisation for wiretaps by requiring "clear evidence" of wrongdoing instead of just well-grounded suspicion.



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