The European Commission waters down the extenuating Media Freedom Act while anti-lawsuit projects are asleep in the Italian parliament – UNESCO is alarmed
OSSIGENO June 17th 2023 – Despite the abundant rain, the summer is making great strides and in a few weeks will impose the annual pause for political and parliamentary activity, postponing the many unresolved problems concerning journalism and freedom of information to the autumn.
In the meantime, another issue has been added to those on the table, a proposed government bill which, despite earnest proclamations, threatens to further restrict the possibility of publishing the contents of judicial wiretaps. The prospect is not comforting.
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) together with other organizations note that the European Commission has decided to water down the Media Freedom Act, the directive that promised to limit the enormous abuse of groundless or exaggerated court proceedings (known as SLAPPS) often initiated with the intention of limiting the publication of information useful to citizens thus reducing citizens’ participation in public life. Unless there are second thoughts, it will not even have the limited, almost non-existent effects that it promised in Italy.
The bills on defamation being examined by the Italian parliament to try to prevent the enormous abuse of the right to sue with the aim of intimidation and censorship are marking time. The bills contain punitive and contradictory norms and do not propose numerous norms considered essential both by Ossigeno (see here) and by other competent organizations which could prevent the systematic abuse of the judicial system for purposes other than those of justice. We can only console ourselves by thinking that Italy is not alone in this. It is in bad company with many other countries that tolerate this massive abuse that acts like a gag on the activity of journalism as a recent UNESCO report has observed (read here).
These groundless court proceedings and other proposed norms permit a sort of preventive censorship, i.e., they prevent the free circulation of news, ideas, and opinions that are unwelcome to the powerful, the arrogant, the criminals. Above all, they gag journalists and newspapers (but not only them), impoverishing public debate and limiting citizen participation.
This is no small harm in a country where about half of the electorate have stopped voting, where the public broadcasting system is increasingly blatantly under political control, under laws that no one is asking to change to bring them up to international standards of pluralism and independence from politics and the governing majority.
In other countries this political permeating of the public information system has at least one precise, meaningful name: media capture which literally means impounding the means of information. Of course, even in Europe there are countries that do worse than us. It’s cold comfort. The bad example of others certainly does not encourage us to resign ourselves, to align ourselves at the lowest level. We should talk more about these matters, instead of letting them carry on, as happens when UNESCO writes about some Italian newspapers (see here) “if journalism is ok like this there is something wrong” yet nobody talks about it.