16 June 2010

Journalists furious over gag law

Despite massive protest from both independent Italian journalists and those close to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Senate approved a gag law on phone taps on 10 June. The "legge bavaglio" criminalises journalists found guilty of publishing the contents of phone taps, serving them with huge fines and harsh prison terms, report Index on Censorship and the International Press Institute (IPI). The law limits journalists' ability to provide vital information to the public.

All of Italy's main newspapers opposed the law when it was still in draft form. In addition, key TV News programmes, including those on Berlusconi's Mediaset and even TG1 - the pro-government national TV news programme - criticised the proposals.

Before the law was passed, the National Federation of the Press (FNSI) and all of Italy's national newspapers gathered in Rome to plan a strategy to fight the proposals. They said the law would "violate the fundamental right of the citizens to knowledge and information." The law will prevent the media and bloggers from reporting on official investigations until a preliminary hearing takes place - a process that can take up to 10 years for some crimes in Italy.

The law carries a potential penalty of up to 450,000 Euros for publishers and 30 days in jail, and up to 10,000 Euros for journalists who publish leaked material obtained through wiretaps before the beginning of a trial.

The bill's restrictions are seen to be "dictated by the desire of politicians to avoid embarrassing allegations about their private lives, rather than by the stated intent to protect ordinary citizens' privacy," says IPI.

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