Monday

5th Dec 2022

Italian gag law threatens bloggers with €25,000 fines for ‘incorrect' facts

  • Bloggers could face huge fines for factual errors on their sites (Photo: Bombardier)

Bloggers, podcasters and even anyone who posts updates on social networks such as Facebook all face being slapped with fines of up to €25,000 for publishing incorrect facts, if a bill that journalists' organisations are calling "authoritarian" currently before the Italian parliament is passed.

A provision within the government's Media and Wiretapping Bill will extend Italy's "obbligo di rettifica", or rectification obligation - a law dating back to 1948 that requires newspapers to publish corrections - to the internet and indeed anyone "responsible for information websites".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

According to the draft law, bloggers and other online publishers - which lawyers believe includes users of Facebook and Myspace - will be obliged to post corrections within 48 hours of any complaint regarding their content.

If authors do not comply, they face fines of up to €25,000. European digital rights campaigners and Italian journalists warn that the move could darken much of Italian cyberspace as for small-scale bloggers, website owners and even those who comment on discussion pages, it would be a near impossibility to deal with a complaint within the alloted time span.

Furthermore, warns the European Digital Rights (EDRI), a pan-European coalition of online civil liberties advocacy organisations, the law implies that bloggers must register with a legal domicile with some authority, facing the same bureaucratic formalities as the written press and that they will have to connect to the internet every single day in order to check whether there is a request for correction and place the correction in due time.

Attempts to soften the law by extending the correction period and reducing the fine to €2500 were rejected last week by the head of the chamber's justice committee.

EDRI warned on Wednesday in a statement that the law "will add new barriers to freedom of expression on the internet," and "would discourage bloggers who will hesitate to write on economical or political issues that might bother certain personalities."

The bill as a whole, whose main purpose is to restrict the use of wiretapping and the ability of publications to quote wiretap transcripts, has provoked an outcry by journalists.

The law proposes to prohibit the publication of transcripts of wiretap recordings, leaks of which in recent years have become something of a staple in the Italian press, particularly in cases of alleged government corruption and organised crime - and indeed Prime Minister Berlusconi.

Journalists or editors that publish such transcripts would face fines of up to €464,700.

The government defends the bill as a necessary to protect the privacy of individuals that are the targets of judicial investigations.

"In Italy, we are all spied on. There are 150,000 telephones that are tapped and it is intolerable," Mr Berlusconi recently said, explaining why the law was required.

On 8 July, the FNSI press union led a publication strike in which most of the country's newspapers apart from a handful of conservative papers and ones published by Prime Minister Berlusconi's media empire. The press "black-out" was intended to "show the kind of silence that the law would impose," according to the union.

Reporters Without Borders told EUobserver the law was "authoritarian".

"This is not just an attempt to gag bloggers and actually all journalists, but more widely it is about stopping the investigation of corruption and organised crime," said Olivier Basille, the head of the group's Brussels office.

"Privacy is important, but in these sort of cases, the public interest in knowing this information outweighs such concerns," he continued.

He said the bill should be seen as an embarrassment by the whole of the European Union: "This is an important issue for Italy, but it is crucial for the EU. Italy is sending a signal to countries beyond the EU that it is okay to severely restrict press freedoms."

"When the EU speaks to China or Syria or whoever about press freedoms, they will say, ‘Ah, but the EU is already doing the same thing.'"

"It's not just Italy though. There are problems with Ireland, Bulgaria and Romania as well. In January last year, Ireland passed an anti-blasphemy law under which you can be fined €20,000. When our organisation raised concerns about a journalist being jailed for blasphemy in the Yemen, they said right back to us: ‘But Ireland does the same thing,' and to some extent they're right."

Reporters Without Borders has complained to the commission about the Italian law "several times", but the commission "cannot oppose this because it is not related to commerce, the single market, these sorts of things."

Commission fundamental rights spokesman Matthew Newman told this website that Brussels will wait until the final law is passed before commenting on whether any aspect contravenes EU law. "It's a moving target at the moment, with all sorts of amendments. It's too early to comment."

In response, the Reporters Without Borders has written to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, hoping that at the member-state level some pressure could be brought to bear on Rome.

While Brussels is keeping quite on the legislation, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in June condemned the bill in June, saying it ""could seriously hinder investigative journalism in Italy."

Mr Berlusconi's arch-rival in his conservative People of Freedom party, Gianfranco Fini, has also sharply criticised the draft law.

The bill was due to be discussed by Italian MPs on Thursday, as the government had hoped to have it passed before the summer recess at the end of the month. Due to agenda problems, it is now expected to be considered some time in early September.

In 2007, the country's then centre-left government of Romano Prodi proposed a similar bill that was subsequently abandoned. Journalists went on strike to protest that legisation as well.

Phone spying scandal exposes 'impotent' Europe, says lead MEP

Democracy in Europe is being undermined by alleged government-led spyware on citizens, journalists and politicians, says Dutch liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld, who is lead report writer for a European Parliament probe into the abuse.

Cyber-risk from Internet of Things prompts new EU rules

With evermore connected devices on the market, new EU rules aim to minimise cybersecurity risks from innocuous household appliances and industrial operating systems — amid concern over the increasing number of cyberattacks and their cost for companies.

EU parliament spyware inquiry eyes Italian firms

An investigation by Lighthouse Reports and media partners including EUobserver found Italian firms Tykelab and RCS Lab were using surreptitious phone network attacks and sophisticated spyware against targets. The findings have spiked the interest of MEPs already probing spyware abuse.

Opinion

Serbia now has no choice but to join EU sanctions on Russia

Vladimir Putin himself is somewhat suspicious of Serbia's leader, as are most who deal with the opaque Aleksandar Vucic. The Russian president has preferred to keep his Serbian counterpart compliant, via a tight rein of annually-reviewed gas pricing.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU ministers in fresh battle on joint debt, after Biden subsidies
  2. EU: 'We'll see' if Moscow actually stops selling oil over price-cap
  3. Bad Karma
  4. Serbia now has no choice but to join EU sanctions on Russia
  5. Hungary's funds showdown in focus This WEEK
  6. EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals
  7. Belarus dictator's family loves EU luxuries, flight data shows
  8. How Berlin and Paris sold-out the EU corporate due diligence law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us