By Giuseppe F. Mennella – With the first round of votes to abolish imprisonment but increasing fines 20-40 times and reviving punitive rules of the Fascist penal code and others thus protecting politicians and the powerful
The Italian Senate intends to give the coup de grace to what is left of journalism proper in Italy. This is what can be inferred from the voting on Thursday the 18th June 2020 at the Justice Commission of the Italian Senate located in Palazzo Madama on the text of the draft bill dealing with libel and defamation by the press (first proposer Giacomo Caliendo). This was the first useful session after the Constitutional Court, on the 11th June, had given Parliament one year in which to abolish imprisonment for those found guilty of defamation. The approval of the entire bill is scheduled for the end of june 2020.
By repealing imprisonment for journalists together with an amendment by the bill proposer senator Armando Lomuti (of the Five Star party), with some changes proposed by Senator Franco Mirabelli (of the Democratic Party), the majority of the Justice Commission in a few lines managed to insert the following rules into the bill:
1. A fine of 5,000 euro to 10,000 euro will be applied to the offense of defamation committed by the print media, by registered online newspapers or by radio and television.
2. If the offence consists in the attribution of a specific false statement, the distribution of which took place with the awareness of its falsity, a fine from 10,000 euro to 50,000 euro will be applied.
3. A negative judgement is .then aggravated by the additional penalty of having the sentence published.
4. In the event of recidivism, an additional penalty of disqualification from the profession of journalist for a period of one to six months is introduced.
5. With a negative sentence, the judge orders the documents to be sent to the competent professional Order so that disciplinary sanctions can be determined.
6. The provisions of articles 596 apply.
7. The journalist and the editor-in-chief are not liable to punishment if they publish their own denials or corrections to remedy the offense prior to the prosecution.
Let us examine what little good there is in this key article of the proposed bill that has been dragging on for twenty years in the Italian Parliament. The repeal of imprisonment, yes. The non-punishment in case of the publication of rectification of what has been said or written, yes. But the correction and repudiation must not contain comment and the law will also state how it should be titled.
Imprisonment is replaced by swingeing fines, capable of closing a press outlet. As Senator Caliendo said during the session: the rule is “extremely oppressive … Draconian and worse than the prison sentence currently envisaged”.
The article of the so-called reform that we are analysing is careful not to remove the Fascist element from the written rules to keep journalists under the heel of power. Indeed it introduces new ones. Meanwhile, on the basis of an evident juridical and jurisprudential illiteracy, the Fascist norm of the penal code is confirmed which forbids demonstrating the truth of what has been affirmed (article 596 of the penal code).
It has been retained despite its not being applied since 1984, when the Supreme Court with its wide-ranging “Ten Commandments” sentence established as unpunishable actions, those of having precisely said or written the alleged truth . This might suggest that we are dealing with legislators who do not even know what defamation is.
The Parliament of the Italian Republic now adds further intimidating scourges to press freedom because, in the event of a conviction for defamation, the obligation to publish the sentence is introduced. And the journalist can also be suspended from the profession for up to six months. To make matters worse, the judge will refer the person sentenced to the Order of Journalists for further disciplinary sanctions. The Senators, among other things, are misguided because, for several years now, the disciplinary procedures have been entrusted to regional and national disciplinary councils. The matter has been removed from the jurisdiction of the Order of Journalists.
Giuseppe Federico Mennella is a journalists and the general secretary of Ossigeno per l’Informazione (Oxigen for Information)