The Italian government has extended its provision within the Media and Wiretapping Bill, "obbligo di rettifica", or rectification obligation, a law dating back to 1948 that requires newspapers or anyone "responsible for informative websites" to publish corrections, and passed a new law aimed at restraining online freedom of speech under the Berlusconi leadership, TheInquirer.net reported.
This law requires Italian bloggers, podcasters and users of social networking sites like Facebook to rectify "incorrect facts" published, and post corrections within 48 hours of receipt of complaint. Any failure to abide by the law within the timeline provided would result in the imposition of a fine of up to €25,000 to be paid by the author or publisher.
Image: Italian President Berlusconi
The European Digital Rights (EDRI), a pan-European coalition of online civil liberties advocacy organisations, and Italian journalists who call this bill "authoritarian" warn that it might darken much of the Italian cyberspace comprising of small-scale bloggers, website owners and users who comment on discussion pages, as they will be left with little or no time to deal with complaint requests and publish corrections within the time span allotted, EUObserver.com reported today.
This law also requires bloggers to register with a legal domicile authority from bureaucratic formalities as the written press, and check for correction requests everyday by connecting to the Internet. Attempts to extend the correction period and reduce the fine imposed to €2,500 was rejected by the head of the chamber's justice committee last week.
The proposed bill has provoked an outcry amongst journalists by restricting the use of wiretapping and publication of wiretap transcripts, which can make them face fine of up to €464,700. A recent "black-out" by the Italian press on 8 July, led by the FNSI press union showcased "the kind of silence that the law would impose," EUObserver.com reported.
"This is not just an attempt to gag bloggers and actually all journalists, but more widely it is about stopping the investigation of corruption and organized crime," Olivier Basille, the head of the group's Brussels office said. "Privacy is important, but in these sort of cases, the public interest in knowing this information outweighs such concerns."
While emphasising the need to protect the privacy of individuals that are the targets of judicial investigations and defending hidden government interests, Berlusconi, prime minister of Italy explained, "In Italy, we are all spied on. There are 150,000 telephones that are tapped and it is intolerable," according to EUObserver.com.
This move will force many sites to either shut down operations or stop discussing issues dealing with powerful people and sensitive matters of public interests, GlobalVoicesOnline.org reported. The upcoming law requires that all Italian Web-TV and video-bloggers file an application with the Communications Authority or at least keep them informed about their official activity, pay €3,000 for a potential investigation reimbursement and still abide by the law applicable for mainstream media at penalty risk of up to €12,500.
Hoping that the European member-state level pressure might be brought to Rome, Reporters Without Borders has written to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, TheInquirer.net reported.