Italian bloggers are to demonstrate in Rome on Thursday against what one opposition leader called a “fascist measure” that would make them liable for fines of up to €12,000 (£10,000).
The proposed clampdown was slipped into a bill to curb the right of the media in Italy to publish wiretap transcripts gathered during criminal investigations. Critics argue it was drafted by Silvio Berlusconi‘s government to protect the prime minister from embarrassment.
Earlier this month, the media gave extensive coverage to a report by prosecutors investigating a businessman alleged to have supplied prostitutes for parties at Berlusconi’s various homes. The report included transcripts in which the prime minister discussed the quantity and qualities of the women, and boasted he had sex with eight in a single night.
The bill, due to begin its journey through parliament next week, includes a clause that puts blogs on the same footing as news websites. It stipulates that anyone who believes they have been defamed or misrepresented in a blog has a right of reply.
The blogger would get 48 hours in which to accede to the demand. In the event of a refusal, he or she would become liable for the fine.
This is not the first time Berlusconi’s government has prompted howls of outrage from the blogosphere. A similar proposal was made last year, but failed to make headway in the legislature.
Paolo Gentiloni of the Democratic party, Italy’s biggest opposition group, said: “The sole outcome of such a juridical absurdity would be to put a de facto block on blogs, websites and social networks.”
Antonio Di Pietro, the leader of the anti-corruption Italy of Principles party and a keen blogger, called the proposal “an insult to freedom and democracy. It is a fascist measure.”
Antonino Polimeni, a lawyer specialising in internet regulation, questioned the extent to which the measure could be used in practice. It envisaged bloggers being asked by email for a rectification and, under Italian law, he told the daily Corriere della Sera, “email has no validity”. The proposal, however, would affect blogs published from known premises to which a letter could be delivered.
John Hooper, The Guardian