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The defamation bill towards a dead end in Senate

There is a political standoff between gravediggers and those who are try to find a fix by putting a stop to spurious lawsuitsIt’s been hanging in the balance, the fate of the bill on libel presented four years ago with the noble intention of immediately get rid of the rules that allow the guilty to inflict a jail penalty of up to six years (a European record that sees Italy second only to Slovakia) and which therefore have a so-called chilling effect on freedom of information. Unfortunately, the solutions advanced by the bill do not realize these noble intentions, urged on from international institutions, but rather it introduces pejorative measures that would reduce even further the freedom of expression. Among them, the most important measure is the increase of ten to twenty times for the minimum amount of fines.

In the past 18 months, the court sentenced another 220 Italian journalists to a century and a half in prison (data from the Ministry of Justice and elaborated by Ossigeno). In the same period, the legislature attempted to pass laws that led in the opposite direction to that indicated by the draft law on defamation. In the same period they have allowed the no-prison bill to sleep a deep sleep in the drawers of the Senate Judiciary Committee, an unexplained sleep that has facilitated these attempts.

Finally, a few weeks ago the bill was unfrozen and its examination resumed. But there are no certainties that it will be approved. Currently, there is an ongoing harsh confrontation between those who want to keep their promises and those who would like to take this opportunity to tighten even further the stranglehold of punitive rules of libel, for which Italy is infamous around the world.

The bill now under discussion was approved in 2015 by the Chamber of Deputies at its second reading. To change, 25 amendments have just been presented. Five propose to reintroduce the rules on the right to be forgotten that MPs have deleted riding a popular outcry, considering them little respectful of the historical memory. The other twenty amendments propose to reintroduce provisions deleted by the House. Some senators, such as Ricchiuti and Felice Casson, have even suggested to penalize even more severely than is provided for those who present specious complaints or intent reckless lawsuits. They suggest to make a timid step forward, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.

How will this tug of war end? Probably with a derailing onto a dead end. According to rumors, the commission is looking for a way out, streamlining the measure, and leaving only the abolition of prison and the articles that propose measures to further curb the frequent use of the intimidating lawsuit and request for damages. Even this path is full of obstacles, as the rapporteur, Senator Rosanna Filippin (Democratic Party) acknowledges.

“We’re trying to figure out – Filippin explained to Ossigeno per l’Informazione – if we can still do something to prevent that, after four years and so many votes, this text ends in another dead end.”

The attempt to save the law, making it consistent with the original intentions and failing to approve it in this last breath of the legislature, is meeting strong resistance. It has already failed the first examination of the Justice Commission. The political will is found wanting, while a desire for revenge seems now to prevail, thus not presenting a unified vision even within the governing majority.

Meanwhile, the courts continue to apply convictions to prison sentences to journalists who make mistakes, sentences that each month raise by 8 to 9 years the aggregate of the years of detention and reproduce the chilling effect that the Government and Parliament are (nominally) committed to eliminate.

ASP (with the collaboration of Daria Contrada)

Leggi in Italiano

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