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Defamation. Senate backtracks on increase of jail sentence

Deleted from the text any reference to art. 595 of the Criminal Code. What it would have produced. The alarm raised by Ossigeno and the combined pressures of the journalistic world have had an effect

The Assembly of the Senate, in its meeting of 8 June 2016, has deleted from the Lo Moro bill the provision which would have permitted tougher prison sentences for those guilty of defamation, raising the maximum penalty provided from six to nine years in prison for journalists.

The harshening was contained in the bill that introduces an aggravating circumstance for certain offenses committed with the purposes of blackmail against public officials, politicians, parliamentarians, magistrates. A bill that with reference to Article 595 of the Criminal Code, that which punishes defamation, betrayed its good intentions. Article 3 of the bill listed defamation through the press among those crimes to be punished with a further aggravating factor in the case of efforts to intimidate or retaliate. In fact, it would have allowed for the journalistic activity to be assimilated to delinquent behaviors, such as those who threaten, use violence, cause injuries.

The bill had been laid off, out of the spotlight, by the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2016, but was only made known on the 27the, when there was the announcement of the forthcoming consideration by Parliament. Indeed on Wednesday, June 8 the text was approved, but with the substantial change of deleting any reference to Article 595 of the Criminal Code and to libel.

The bill was presented by Senator Doris Lo Moro after the conclusion of a parliamentary inquiry on the serious phenomenon of local administrators that are intimidated and threatened, even with violent acts, so as not to allow them to carry out their mandate. The survey was carried out by an ad hoc parliamentary commission chaired by senator Lo Moro who had identified the need to protect them by legally aggravating the punishment for retaliatory violence against them. But at the time of writing the norm, the legislator had added to local administrators parliamentarians and judges. In other words, the leaders of the political, administrative and judicial bodies, for over ten years now commonly referred to as “the caste.” Who violates these subjects for retaliation for acts performed or not performed in the exercise of the mandate will apply an aggravating sentence for the offense committed by a minimum of one third to one half of the same.

This would also have happened to journalists, if recognized guilty of libel committed by publishing with a retaliatory purpose. A rule that would have produced a chilling effect on the activities of information, given the severity of the punishment. Journalistic investigations on the activities of a municipality and its administrators could be blocked by a lawsuit for defamation with retaliatory purpose: to have a judgment years would have passed, but in the meantime the journalist and the outlet would have been intimidated and probably silenced. Furthermore, a rule so conceived would have been exposed to difficulties and differences in interpretation of far-reaching consequences.

The reverse has taken place on June 8th: the rapporteur Giuseppe Cucca has tabled an amendment, which was approved by the Assembly, to expunge Article 595 of the Criminal Code (defamation) of the elements of an offense under aggravating circumstance of the sentence. The decision was welcomed by the President of the Senate, Pietro Grasso.

Against these provisions of the bill at the end of May the alarm had immediately been raised by the OSCE, by taking a firm position through the Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic. Concern had also been expressed by the Platform for the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists of the Council of Europe, the EFJ (European Federation of Journalists), IPI, and Index on Censorship. In Italy the Order of Journalists, the Press Federation and Ossigeno per l’Informazione reacted together. Without these combined pressures there would not have been the positive result of the Senate hearing of June, 8th.


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