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Defamation. RWB promotes Italy for a non-existent law

In the report by Reporters Without Borders, Italy gains nine positions in one year. The objections of Ossigeno and the Senator Casson

In the world ranking of countries on Press Freedom compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders and published on February 12th, 2014 in Paris, Italy has climbed nine positions in 2013 (going from 58th to 49th place). The judgment by 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 initiated the discussion of a bill that provides for the decriminalization of libel.

Ossigeno per l’Informazione has asked to correct the positive assessment on Italy by pointing out that things are not so: the bill proposal cited merely replaces the penalty of imprisonment with no less troubling and intimidating economic sanctions, for these are not proportionate to the financial capabilities of the convicted nor to the actual damage caused (READ MORE).

The Senator Mr Felice Casson, of the centre-left Democratic Party, raised similar objections. “It’s important – the MP said – to have international recognition the Parliament’s efforts to amend the Italian legislation. Unfortunately, however, we must also point out that this has not happened yet. At the moment, only the imprisonment provisions for journalists have been removed, whereas the crime of defamation has not yet been completely decriminalized. I hope that the Senate, with the Justice Committee in particular, will soon complete the discussions on the bill that would finally put order in a matter of great delicacy for freedom of information and individual rights”.

THE RANKINGS – The future reform on defamation has induced RWB to push Italy up, thus quitting the group of countries with “sensitive issues” on press freedom and entering the group of countries that have a “pretty good situation” (see map).

As the report stated, Italy is “the only positive development” in southern Europe, as it is “has emerged finally from a negative spiral and is preparing an encouraging law that would decriminalize defamation via the media “.

OTHER COUNTRIES – In the old continent, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway still top RWB’s league, while Bulgaria is at the tail, partly due to the violence suffered by some journalists during the anti-government protests of last summer.

The 2014 ranking, moreover, notes the deterioration of press freedom in countries such as Great Britain (which loses three positions), the United States (down thirteen positions) – as a result of the conviction of Mr Bradley Manning involved in the WikiLeaks case and of the Snowden Case – and especially the Central African Republic, currently theatre to a serious internal conflict and which, because of this, was set-back 43 positions 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 (e.g. the temptations to self-censorship); the laws relating to freedom of expression; transparency in the production of information; the quality of infrastructure in support of the production itself; and the level of 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. In the last annual report, published in December 2013, it stated that Italy “lags behind new and emerging democracies” for well-known reasons: the fact that in our country defamation is considered a criminal rather than a civil offense, the norms with which politicians protect themselves from press criticism, the difficulty of citizens to access information even when explicitly requested, the lack of pluralism and the blocked market, the conflicts of interest and the interference of some politicians, as well as laws that do not adequately protect human rights.

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