Judge: Blogging is Illegal in Italy
Yeah, it's a sensationalist headline, but if one takes a strict view of Italian law, then Italy's bloggers are all criminals. But good-guy criminals. Like Han Solo.
The article below is best read with the understanding that Italy's Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has a tight grip on mass media in Italy, owning three national TV channels, the largest publishing house, and the leading ad agency.
The story begins back in May, when a judge in Modica (in Sicily) found local historian and author Carlo Ruta guilty of the crime of "stampa clandestina" – or publishing a "clandestine" newspaper – in respect of his blog. The judge ruled that since the blog had a headline, that made it an online newspaper, and brought it within the law’s remit.
The penalties for this crime are not onerous: A fine of 250 Euros or a prison sentence of up to two years. Carlo Ruta was fined and ordered to take down his site, which has now been replaced by a blank page, headed "Site under construction", and a link directing surfers to his new site. Hardly serious stuff – except that he now has a criminal record, and his original site has disappeared.
The offence has its origins in 1948, when in apparent contradiction of Article 21 of the Italian Constitution guaranteeing the right to free expression, a law was passed requiring publishers to register officially before setting up a new publication. The intention, in the immediate aftermath of Fascism, may have been to regulate partisan and extremist publications. The effect was to introduce into Italian society a highly centrist and bureaucratic approach to freedom of the Press.
A further twist to this tale took place in 2001, with the realisation that existing laws were inadequate to deal with the internet. Instead of liberalising, the Italian Government sought to bring the internet into the same framework as traditional print media. Law 62, passed in March 2001, introduces the concept of "stampa clandestina" to the internet.
So is this just a storm in a teacup? After all, if this law potentially affects some 5 million Italian websites, there are at least 4,999,999 that have not yet been taken down. Why was Carlo Ruta singled out?
One clue lies in the location of the court that found him guilty (Sicily). Another, in the fact that his blog contained much detailed research of links between politics and the mafia – always a sensitive subject in Italy.