Jail for journalists? Unclear Italian government response to the Council of Europe

He says that there is a bill in Parliament to abolish imprisonment but in the reply the government does not declare what its political will is in this regard. For or against?

With regard to the abolition of imprisonment for journalists found guilty of libel, the Italian government has responded unclearly to the request for explanations from the Council of Europe. (Read here)

The government sent the reply back to Parliament without saying whether it is in favour or against. Its political will remains equivocal.

On May 5th the Council of Europe asked the Italian government for explanations in relation to the alert posted on its Platform for the protection of journalism through the initiative of the Association of European Journalists (AGE / AEJ). The alert reported the concerns of Ossigeno per l’Informazione (Oxygen for Information) and the Italian Order of Journalists regarding the position taken by the Italian Attorney General ahead of a hearing of the 9th June 2020 at the Constitutional Court. At that hearing, the Court will pronounce whether it is legitimate and in accordance with the Constitution to punish those guilty of defamation in the press, who are predominantly journalists, with imprisonment.

The Italian Ambassador to the Council of Europe sent, on May 26th, 2020 a technical note, which can be read on the Platform.

In essence, this note repeats the same old story, the bureaucratic response that Italy has been purveying for 20 years to international institutions that challenge the provision of prison sentences for the offence of defamation and its actual application in hundreds of sentences, a real disgrace which makes vexatious lawsuits ever more powerful weapons of intimidation.

With this response, the Italian government admits (and how could it not!) that the problem of repealing imprisonment exists and adds that Parliament is dealing with the issue with a bill put forward by Senator Caliendo who, in effect, proposes the abolition of imprisonment.

But it is, in fact, only a proposal. And the fate of this bill, as is widely acknowledged, is extremely uncertain, partly because of the Pilate’s position adopted by the Executive.

The pessimistic predictions about the fate of this bill are fully justified. They are based on what has already happened in the last five legislatures, during which the Italian Parliament, in a very limited time, examined and discussed some proposed bills similar to the one cited now by the Government, but at the end of each of the five legislatures the text under consideration was not approved. In the following legislature, Parliament started from square one as in a game of snakes and ladders.

And so the government’s response to the Council of Europe is not reassuring. The Council of Europe and other institutions (including the UN Human Rights Committee which periodically makes a careful review of compliance with Italian commitments) should insist upon obtaining a clearer answer about the situation and the effective will of the Italian government.

It would be grotesque to accept the government’s reply as a valid justification. It is as if, by checking a patient who is infected, the doctors allowed him to avoid  isolation because he can exhibit a prescription that prescribes a therapy. Everyone understands the difference between a diagnosis and a therapy. There is the same difference between a law and proposed legislation.

For more information read here


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