Italy. Libel. 9000 criminal complaints & 64 prison sentences each year

Oxygen’s comments on the Istat figures of Italian penal libel proceedings against journalists. The complaints doubled between 2011 and 2017. The analysis by Giuseppe F. Mennella

Prof. Giuseppe Federico Mennella, secretary of the Osservatorio Ossigeno per l’Informazione , speaking at the convention organized by Ossigeno “Troppe Minacce ai Giornalisti” in the Senate stated that, 

“While waiting for Parliament to approve the law to abolish prison for journalists (an attempt that has been in vain since 2001), it is very instructive to take a look at the official and incontrovertible figures – prepared by ISTAT(the Italian Statistics Institute)  – on lawsuits filed against journalists, the dismissals, the sentences  inflicted upon those convicted of libel aggravated by the factual attribution (article 13 of the 1948 law on the press”.  In 2016, 9039 lawsuits were decided. 6317 cases were dismissed, equal to 69.88 per cent.

In 2016, 287 were convicted with an irrevocable sentence. There were 38 prison sentences; 234 fined. In 2017 the irrevocable sentences were 435. Imprisonment was imposed in 64 cases, fines were imposed in 336 trials. Prison sentences range from one month to two years; about half are between three and six months. Examining the time series, there is a growing trend towards resorting easily to a lawsuit.

In 2011 judges ruled on 4524 lawsuits (67.57 per cent were dismissed). In 2016,  9039 lawsuits were ruled upon (69.8 per cent were dismissed). The alarm, therefore, is justified: between 2011 and 2017 the lawsuits have doubled.

The same trend can be seen in the final sentences: from 182 in 2014 to 435 in 2017. This is still the case for the final sentences of imprisonment: from 35 (six women) in 2014 to 64 (26 women) in 2017. A comparable situation for sentences to a fine: from 136 (28 women) in 2014 to 336 (99 women) in 2017.

All these figures – added Mennella – confirm the trend of baseless as shown by the data on cases being dismissed; about 70 per cent of the lawsuits are thrown out during the preliminary investigation phase. These figures depict a condition of attack on the profession”.

Recently, from the judicial offices of Salerno and Bari, two judges regarded the questioning of the constitutional legitimacy of the rules providing for prison sentences for journalists found guilty of libel “not manifestly unfounded”. The “Consulta” (the Italian Supreme Court)  will rule next spring on this, evaluating the ordinary norms in the light of the constitutional ones and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and in the light of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The European Court of Human Rights has always expressed itself against the legislative provision of prison for journalists, as well as against prison sentences generally (only allowed for crimes of instigating violence or inciting hatred).

“It is these principles – concluded Mennella – that should inspire legislation that respects the right of citizens to be informed. “

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