Letters   |   Italy

CPJ urges Renzi to bring Italian libel laws up to European standards

July 1, 2014

Matteo Renzi
Il Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri
Palazzo Chigi
Piazza Colonna 370
00187 Roma
Italy

Via email: matteo@governo.it

Dear Prime Minister Renzi,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit press freedom organization, is concerned by the reluctance of Italian authorities to abolish criminal defamation laws. As Italy today takes the rotating presidency of the European Union, we call on your government to abolish criminal libel and bring Italian laws in line with European and international standards.

Italy remains one of the few European countries where journalists face prison sentences--up to six years--if convicted of libel. The European Court of Human Rights has said Italy's legislation violates the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights with disproportionate criminal sanctions in defamation cases, such as in Belpietro v. Italy and Ricci v. Italy in September and October, respectively, of last year.

The threat of criminal defamation charges is often used as a tool to intimidate journalists and deter them from reporting on political corruption or organized crime, according to CPJ research. At least four journalists were given prison sentences in 2013 on defamation convictions, our research shows. Defamation offences fall under Articles 595-597 of Italy's Criminal Code and Article 13 of the Law of the Press no. 47/1948.

The Justice Committee of the Italian Senate has just voted a new defamation law, adopting draft legislation passed in first reading in October by the Italian Chamber of Deputies, with minor amendments. The new legislation would mark an improvement, but the proposed act falls short of widely accepted European and international standards, as the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and the United Nations recently warned in a joint opinion column.

CPJ would welcome the abolition of prison sentences in defamation crimes. But the draft legislation, pending a final vote in the Chamber, maintains the possibility of criminal charges for defamation and sets disproportionate monetary fines of up to 60,000 euros (US$82,167) for the most serious cases. The local press freedom watchdog Ossigeno per l'Informazione has told CPJ that the new law would have a chilling effect because the fines could be greater than what some journalists earn.

We echo the concern expressed by domestic and international organizations that the draft law extends to TV, radio, and online journalists and that amendments were rejected that would have limited spurious lawsuits in civil courts. According to figures published by Ossigeno per l'Informazione, more than one-third of cases of intimidation against Italian journalists in 2011-2013 emanated from false lawsuits and other abuses of the legal framework.

We urge your government to abolish any legislation that could stifle criticism. A vibrant media landscape is the best companion for your drive to regenerate Italy, as journalists who are free to report without obstruction or intimidation can help root out inefficiencies, corruption, and organized crime--all of which the Italian central bank has said are holding back the country's economic recovery.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director

CC:

Claudio Bisogniero, Ambassador of Italy to the United States

John R. Phillips, U.S. Ambassador to the Italian Republic and the Republic of San Marino

Federica Mogherini, Italian Foreign Affairs Minister

Andrea Orlando, Italian Justice Minister

Laura Boldrini, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies

Roberto Speranza, President of the Partito Democratico Group in the Chamber of Deputies

Riccardo Nuti, President of the Movimento 5 Stelle Group in the Chamber of Deputies

Renato Brunetta, President of the Forza Italia - Il Popolo della Liberta Group in the Chamber of Deputies

Nunzia de Girolamo, President of the Nuevo Centrodestra Group in the Chamber of Deputies

Antimo Cesaro, Vice President of the Scelta Civica de per l'Italia Group in the Chamber of Deputies

Nicola Fratoianni, President of the Sinistra Ecologia Libertá Group in the Chamber of Deputies

Giancarlo Giorgetti, President of the Lega Nord e Autonomie Group in the Senate

Pietro Grasso, President of the Italian Senate

Luigi Zanda, President of the Partido Democratico Group in the Senate

Paolo Romani, President of the Forza Italia Group in the Senate

Maurizio Bucarella, President of the Movimento 5 Stelle Group in the Senate

Massimo Bitonci, President of the Lega Nord e Autonomie Group in the Senate

Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship

Marietje Schaake, Member of the European Parliament Neelie.Kroes, European Commissioner for Digital Agenda

Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

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