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Defamation. RWB promotes Italy for a law that’s not there

In the report by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) Italy gains nine positions in one year. The objections by Ossigeno and the senator Mr Casson

In the world ranking of countries on measures of press freedom compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders and presented on February 12th, 2014 in Paris, in 2013 Italy has gained nine places (jumping from 58th to 49th). The judgment of RWB, which is an organization that since 1985 has been fighting for the protection of journalists around the world, is based on the consideration that the Italian Parliament has begun discussing a project of law that provides for the decriminalization of defamation through the press.

Ossigeno per l’Informazione has asked to correct the positive assessment on Italy by pointing out that things are not as RWB believes: the bill proposes merely to replace the penalty of imprisonment with economic sanctions that are no less troubling and intimidating, since they are not proportionate to the economic capacity of the convicted person nor to the actual damage caused.

The senator Mr Felice Casson (PD) expressed similar criticisms. “It’s important – the MP said – that the efforts of Parliament to amend the Italian legislation on the subject are internationally recognized. But, unfortunately, it is also necessary to point out that this has not yet happened. At the moment, in fact, only the prison sentence for journalists has been removed, but the crime of defamation has not yet been decriminalized. I hope that the Senate, and the Justice Committee in particular, will complete as soon as possible procedure to approve the bill; a bill which would finally put order in a matter of great delicacy for freedom of information and individual rights”.

THE RANKINGS – RWB, basing its decsions on the appreciation of the future reform on defamation, has moved Italy from the group of countries with “sensitive issues”, to that of countries that have a “pretty good situation” (see map).
Italy, the report said, is “the only positive development” in southern Europe, and “has finally emerged from a negative spiral and is preparing an encouraging law that would decriminalize defamation via the media”.

OTHER COUNTRIES – In the continent, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway always top the rankings, while Bulgaria is at the tail, even because of the violence suffered by some journalists during anti-government protests last summer.

The 2014 ranking reports, amongst other things, the deterioration of press freedom in countries such as Great Britain (which loses three positions), the United States (thirteen positions) – as a result of the conviction of Mr Bradley Manning in the WikiLeaks case and the case of Mr Edward Snowden – and, above all, the Central African Republic, which is currently the scene of a serious internal conflict and that because this set-back has dropped down by 43 places compared to last year.
At the rear there are Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.

METHODOLOGY – RWB ranks countries based on an index that combines several factors: the ability of the media to express diverse opinions (pluralism); their independence from authority and other powers; the context within which journalists work and the temptations to self-censorship; the laws relating to freedom of expression; transparency in the production of information; the quality of the infrastructure supporting the production of information; as well as incidents of violence against journalists themselves.

INDEX ON CENSORSHIP – The evaluation of another international organization based in London, Index on Censorship, disagrees with that of RWB. The last annual report, published in December 2013, states that Italy “lags behind other new and emerging democracies” for well-known reasons: the fact that in our country defamation is a criminal, and not a civil, offense; the norms with which politicians protect themselves from press criticism; the difficulty of citizens to access information even when these explicitly requested; the lack of pluralism and the blocked market; the conflict of interests and the interference of some politicians; as well as laws that do not adequately protect human rights.


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