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Prison. A Damocles’ Sword which no one wants to pass on

Attempts to increase the penalties for defamation are not new. Soon, new data on prison sentences

Periodically the temperature which measures the level of confrontation between politics and information rises dramatically. It happens every time gag laws are trying to be passed, whenever there is an attempt to introduce the reform of wiretaps in the package on defamation, still before Parliament. It is today the turn of the rule that all the commentators have dubbed (and how you blame them!) “Caste Saver”, as it tends to discourage media workers who are going to write a news story or a criticism of a person who is alternatively, part of a political, administrative or judicial body, wherever intimidation acts of retaliatory nature are connected to the fulfillment of their mandate, their functions or for their service.

It should be immediately clear that this aggravating circumstance, which should take the place of Article 339 bis in the criminal code, fits into the broader context of the private crimes against the public administration. Ossigeno has immediately pointed out that the aggravating circumstance specific to defamation to the detriment of the above-mentioned already exists. In fact, the fourth paragraph of Article 595 of the criminal code provides to increase the penalty, although not explicit in the measure, for libel against a political, administrative or judicial body. So what is the meaning of this provision? None, except to quantify an increase in the penalty already provided for, but aggravating it.

It seems as though they are trying to meddle with the rule, limiting the increased penalties to cases in which it can be demonstrated to the court that the journalist acted in retaliatory purpose. Indeed this type of change would return meaningfulness to the aggravating circumstances referred to in Article 339 bis of the Criminal Code, given that the mind of the slanderer here would be characterized by a quid pluris represented by the willingness to engage in retaliation against the persons protected by the rule .

Regardless of the legal or political considerations on the quality of the provision in question, what should be highlighted, however, is the sense of loss due to the legislative inconsistency that characterizes this type of intervention. For years, Parliament has been wasting time on approving the abolition of imprisonment for defamation. Now, it introduces a rule that significantly increases the prison sentence. It gets really hard to understand in which direction we are going. In Italy, the imprisonment of journalists is still a reality and shortly Ossigeno will publish exclusiveley new unpublished data from the administration of Justice, which will allow to speak in a more objective way of this and other procedural aspects, and in particular to quantify prison sentences imposed today by Italian Judges. We will know alarming data.

The truth is that the factions in Parliament consider imprisonment a tool for the control of information, every now and then they try to stiffen penalties, they ditch the European-inspired reform on libel. The feeling that is ever more pervasive is, paradoxically, that we should be satisfied if things remain as they are, because the change we have been talking about for some time in terms of defamation is only likely to make things worse.

Andrea Di Pietro

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