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Amendments to the Italian press legislation may silence no-profit organisations that are committed to spreading information on the Web.
Press Release - please circulate.
Taranto (Italy), 25th November 2000.
Although freedom of information is sanctioned by the Italian Constitution, even missionary priests in Italy may soon be obliged to register as an official press outlet, if they produce information on a permanent basis on their Website.
This is what just days ago Franco Abruzzo, the President of the Roll of Journalists of Lombardy, said after a meeting with the Italian Minister of Justice, Piero Fassino, the representatives of the Roll of Journalists, of FNSI and FIEG (unions of journalists and publishers), the representatives of the Italian Prime Minister, and the Authority for Privacy. This meeting was held to discuss modifications of the current Press Law that are expected to be passed in the near future.
Mr Abruzzo commented on the meeting at a conference organised on November, 17 by the free journal Terre di Mezzo and the magazine Mondo e Missione. At the end of the conference, Mr Abruzzo told a member of Associazione PeaceLink that, following the recent proposal to modify the Italian Press Law (no. 47/ 1948), voluntary services, charities, no-profit associations and even private citizens who want to put up documents and information on the Internet on a permanent basis may be obliged to register their own Web “press outlet”: they will also be obliged to appoint an executive director who will need to be a member of the Roll on Journalists, and will be held responsible for the information published in the site.
This is all summarised in an article published on November 19 by Mr Abruzzo in the Italian financial daily “Il Sole 24 Ore” (the article is available on the Lombardy Roll of Journalists Website, http://www.odg.mi.it/diffamz4.htm). The article specifies that the extension to private citizens of obligations that have been so far restricted to press outlets “on paper” is not formally stated in a law bill. In fact, it will probably be included in amendments that should be attached to the bill no. 7292/ 2000, recently submitted to Parliament for discussion. The official subject of the bill, whose promoter is MP Gianfranco Anedda, is in fact libel.
In the pages of institutional Websites dedicated to parliamentary records, there is no trace of such amendments, and there is a possibility that decisions over such a delicate issue may end up being made by backstairs lobbying. And the people concerned may not be able to express their opinion about what would amount to a blatant censorship operation against non-commercial and non-standardised information.
The first indications of this operation appeared last spring, during negotiations for the renewal of the collective labour agreement of journalists. The protagonists of the negotiation were the representatives of FNSI, the Federation of the Italian Press, and of FIEG, the Federation of Italian Publishers. In its contractual platform, FNSI reiterated a distinction between journalists and the rest of people, but this time this distinction was applied to the Internet as well, and was presented as a way to “offer guarantees to users” concerning the ownership and source of Internet information products. Such “guarantees” should pass through the introduction of a “pressmark”, also known as a “blue seal”, differentiating between “good” information, i.e. information by journalists, and information that has been defined as “general initiatives in the market and in the telecommunication system”.
The Catholic Press Union (UCSI) also intervened in the debate in the last few months: Paolo Scandaletti said that “to start with, it should be required by law that Websites spreading information be registered as press outlets at local Courts, just like newspapers and TV news programmes”. Such a statement is ambiguous and worrying at the same time, since it would prove especially difficult to find Websites that do not “spread information”. In addition, an obligation to register would inevitably depend, to a certain extent, on the discretionary power of those that should enforce such a law. Mr Scandaletti returned to the topic in Desk, the magazine of the Catholic Press Union (UCSI). In the June 2000 issue, he wrote “admittedly, it is impossible to control the Internet worldwide. But if each country insisted on holding a person responsible for each site that spreads information, and adopted a register of press outlets to be kept by local Courts, as it happens in Italy, maybe some progress could be made”.
An argument based on associating the Web with impunity, and on the subsequent need to hold somebody “responsible” for every single Web page seems to be rather weak: in fact, to register an Internet address in Italy, it is already necessary to sign a “responsibility-taking letter” where the applicants have to include their own personal data and declare themselves responsible for the consequences of the use and management of their Website. The only difference from what the Roll of Journalists and the UCSI suggest is that, at present, it is not necessary to register with a particular professional Roll in order to run a Website and spread information.
But there is another hypocritical element in the equivalence between Web bulletins and newspapers. As a matter of fact, the scope of such a measure would be limited to the “right to publish” on the Web, which would become the prerogative of journalists registered with the Roll. It should be borne in mind that, in order to enter the Italian Roll of Journalists, one must have published a certain number of articles. However, the equivalence between the Web and the press will not hold when it comes to using documents published on the Web for access to the Roll of Journalists. Therefore, this rule would only be exclusive, i.e. intended to stop “non-journalists” from running information Websites, but it would not be inclusive, in that articles published in the Web, outside the official press, do not count for registration with the Roll.
“Protecting the reader” is the other argument used by those who support the obligation to register. It suffices to look beyond a restricted horizon to see that the Web is extraterritorial: therefore, an obligation to register would not bring about a decrease in the number of information-spreading Websites. On the contrary, such a measure would cause an increase in the number of Websites written in Italian but started up abroad, where it would not be easy for our Justice to intervene if illegal activities were performed in violation of the Italian national law and the code of conduct of Italian journalists. “The antidote against bad journalism is not the Roll. It is, quite simply, good journalism”, said Jean-Pierre Langellier, an editorialist for the French daily Le Monde and a member of Reporters sans Frontičres, who was with Franco Abruzzo at the conference organised by Terre di Mezzo.
It is to defend our right to participate actively in the processes of information and to stop passive and uncritical use of new technologies that Associazione PeaceLink (www.peacelink.it) has addressed an appeal to all the people who stand for open and free development of information in Italy.
Associazione PeaceLink is a group of volunteers who have published information on the Internet on a free and self-managed basis since 1992, in co-operation with organisations, teachers, educationalists and social workers who support peace, non-violence, human rights, liberation of oppressed people, the environment and freedom of expression. You do not get any money by working for PeaceLink, but you work to give a voice to people that do not have a voice.
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