Italy. Also the next legislature will end without abolishing prison penalties?

Ossigeno will be signalling those candidates who will commit to abolish the provision on defamation allowing judges to condemn journalists up to 6-year imprisonment

In Italy, on 28 December 2017, the legislature ended without approving the draft bill to stop the plague of thousands of defamation charges made every year, in a specious way, for intimidatory purposes against five thousand journalists. Ossigeno had predicted that the draft bill was heading towards a dead end eight months ago (read it) and had indicated the way to avoid it.

The Italian Parliament has been working for more than ten years, namely since 2001, to amend the bad libel law in force for  70 years (since the enactment of the Penal Code in 1930 and the press law in 1948), but has never definitively amended it. Lately, in the just ended legislature, the MPs seemed close to reaching the finishing line. However, it was just an illusion.

The two branches of the Parliament, the House of Representatives and the Senate, could never agree to approve the same text of the draft bill. For five years, an arm-wrestling ensued between innovators and supporters of the status quo which the latter ultimately won. The government has remained to watch without intervening.

So, once again, during its last mandate 2013-2018 (formally ended on December 28, 2017) the Italian Parliament failed to maintain its solemn commitment to abolish the law that allow judges to inflict a jail penalty of up to six years (a European record that sees Italy second only to Slovakia) to whomever  is guilty of defamation. The Parliament did not even consider the possibility of decriminalizing defamation in the press as international institutions had many times urged. None of the 946 members of parliament proposed decriminalizing defamation.

The same disappointing result had occurred at the ends of the previous two legislative mandates, i.e., in 2006 and in 2013.

And so  the Italian law that produces such a strong chilling effect on freedom of information will remain in force at least for one more year and will produce, like in recent years, hundreds more  sentences of imprisonment for libel.

The Italian data are impressive. Only in the last five years, i.e., while the Parliament was trying to pass the “Costa Bill” (the draft bill that disappointed everybody and was never approved), the Italian courts sentenced 155 people annually (mostly journalists) to jail penalties for libel.

Over the total period, the sentences issued have totalled 515 years of imprisonment. In reality, judges effectively applied prison sentences only twice, to the journalists Francesco Gangemi in 2015 and Antonio Cipriani in 2016. Otherwise Judges applied alternative measures, such as house arrest or reliance on social services. Judges suspended all the other jail penalties on the condition of not committing the offence again.

Each jail penalty had a strong conditioning effect on the collection and spreading of information. This intimidatory effect is widely enhanced by the widespread  and unopposed  abuse of charges for defamation.

An official statistic (see it), issued by the Italian Ministry of Justice and disseminated by Ossigeno per l’Informazione, highlights the huge scale of this worrying phenomenon. In the same five years 2013-2017 the Parliament was discussing the draft bill, Italian courts dealt with 29,520 penal charges for defamation. Ninety per cent of them ended with the acquittal of the defendants. The defendants claimed legal expenses for these trials totalling 270 million euros. Mostplaintiffs did not reimburse legal expenses to the defendant after his acquittal.

ASP (wt)

Leggi in italiano

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