O2 in English

Hoaxes and post-truth. And if we were to discuss them in a conference?

Journalists, politicians, editors and those in government have a duty to formulate and compare concrete proposals for evaluating the responsibility and the correct practices of the media

Also we at Ossigeno per l’Informazione, at the start of this new year, are motivated by good intentions and by an interest in the freedom of expression and of the press. Thus we want to take a positive impulse from the encounter and confrontation which has begun over the real problem of false unsubstantiated news which negatively influences public debate.

We also want to defend truth, to understand the phenomenon of the so-called post-truth, to block the propagation of false news, to punish severely who knowingly, deliberately, with ulterior motives, uses the media as an improper weapon of aggression to defend special interests.

But we are unable to identify ourselves in neither the tone and the manner of the confrontation, nor in the proposals formulated in these days. Nor do we succeed in siding with one or other of the proponents in the furious argument.

Our impression is the following: each individual, faced with what he/she considers to be unjust attacks, reacts by counter-attacking, taking into consideration only that part of the problem which closely affects him/her, ignoring the complexity and the broader aspect of the phenomenon, overlooking the studies, the analyses and the objective documentation of the problems to be resolved. In this way he/she will also ignore the proposals already formulated and discussed at a national political and legislative level and at an international level within major organisations.

What is the point of reacting like this? When these problems arise it is not sufficient to defend oneself. Effective practical solutions are required able to achieve a balance among all the interests involved in order to regulate the exercise of freedom of expression – a fundamental right which, in every democracy, is strictly linked to the personal liberty of oneself and of others.

We know well that these considerations “non fanno cassetta” (do not attract money) and do not become viral on social media. But it is these considerations we must face up to if we truly want to disarm the producers of hoaxes, the dealers in false, exaggerated and tendentious news. They should be punished by Article 695 of the Penal Code insofar as they disturb public order but also those who misdirect the public exactly as road signs if they point in the wrong direction.

It would be useful to discuss these matters in a calm and constructive way in a public conference at which experts (and there are some) on the subject could expound their views and everybody could fully present their ideas and discuss those of the others.

We would, therefore, be able to see more closely, several of the participants of contentious information-truth, information-politics.

The president of the Antitrust, regarding hoaxes on the web, could correct his proposal which has given the impression of a new attempt to forcibly diminish democracy (and God save us).

Grillo could explain if he is satisfied to create his special jurisdiction to judge the credibility of newspapers or if he thinks that also in Italy, as happens in other democratic countries, the accuracy of information should be evaluated by representative readers organisations and of all those involved in the case but independent of the government, of newspapers and of journalist organisations.

These are called Media Accountability Systems and have as complementary bodies Press Councils and Ombudsman which resolve most of the claims of readers in a rapid satisfying way without high costs and without the involvement of magistrates.

The editors of newspapers could clearly explain what they think about this proposal and of the problem of too many threats and intimidations of journalists and editors and not limit themselves to self-certify their own correctness like hosts who reassure that their wine is good.

The government could say what its intentions are regarding its response to the calls from international organisations to apply and respect European law regarding information; what it thinks of the legislative proposals which are fast asleep in Parliament, beginning with the legislative proposal to abolish prison for defamation and with the introduction of a measure to punish the shameful abuse of litigation for threatening purposes.

Everybody could say what they think about the proposals of the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission, contained in a report approved in 2015 by the Chamber, to introduce a new offence to punish with the appropriate severity the “mud-slinging machine”, something quite different and more serious than defamation in the media and an offence to punish, as it ought to, whoever deliberately obstructs the exercise of freedom of expression and press freedom safeguarded by Article 21 of the Italian Constitution. Today whoever obstructs the right to information enjoys total impunity.

Everybody, moreover, would have the opportunity to say what they think about the request from the Council of Europe, directed also at the Italian government, to establish a public agency linked to NGOs to monitor and contest the threats and intimidation of journalists which is a serious problem in Italy (Ossigeno has recorded over three thousand cases).

During a conference on information, organised with competent and representative speakers, one could discuss and compare, granting sufficient time to each participant, and addressing also other related questions which one has never the opportunity to talk about and which, it must be said, not even the newspapers discuss.

Is there this predisposition to discuss calmly and to compare? Or is there only the desire to agitate and make propaganda? We are incurable optimists. We think that sooner or later this conference should and will take place. We will, therefore, work to get all the involved parties around the table, to organise a constructive “peace conference” and to form a coalition of the willing with all those who want to combat the true enemies of press freedom and not merely argue with their opponents and political rivals.

Is it a dream? Perhaps. We hope that 2017 will be a good year for achieving it.


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