Europe should move to protect freedom of speech in Italy, says media researcher Benedetta Brevini in a Guardian article. Journalists in Italy have come together in recent days to protest the proposed Alfano law, which would limit the media and prohibit the reporting of any information about criminal investigations before the case comes to trial. In response to protests from the public and from politicians, the terms of the bill are being re-discussed.
As the International Press Institute specified on Friday, the bill foresees "a penalty of up to 464,700 Euros for publishers and up to 20,000 Euros for journalists who flout the ban." The bill would also ban recording or filming of individuals without their approval and proposes prison sentences for those who disobey, as well as forbidding wiretaps unless investigators can prove that a crime has been committed. "Critics have suggested the move has more to do with the desire of politicians to avoid embarrassing allegations about their private lives than with the stated intent to protect ordinary citizens' privacy," the IPI noted.
Brevini suggests that the law has been proposed in response to cases involving phone taps on prominent politicians, prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and industry minister Claudio Scajola, who was forced to resign, rather than in actual defence of individual privacy. She believes that "wiretaps are fundamental tools for investigators to find evidence for serious crimes" and says that many high-profile mafia bosses would not have been arrested without them.
In Italy, the current prime minister has an unusually high level of media control, particularly over television, which is a very influential medium in the country. The European Union has a responsibility, Brevini believes, to act to protect Italy's freedom of speech. A resolution in the European parliament in October last year denouncing the lack of media freedom in Italy was rejected as it was decided it was a national matter.
Clearly, on some occasions it is necessary to protect an individual's privacy for legal reasons, but to ban journalists from reporting on arrests and other charges for what could be a period of years does seem to pose a threat to reporting that may well be in the public interest.