Blogs in Italy possibly illegal in future?

By Michael Smith

Because of a law that requires all “online publications” to be registered and licensed, a law which has already in effect since 2001, all Blogs in Italy could theoretically be against the law. Many Blogs will face closure.

The law requiring all “online publications, to be registered in advance did not seem to bother anyone in 2001 – I mean how many Blogs were there in those days. In Italy a license is required to follow the calling of a journalist, whether in normal publications of on the Internet.

Now an Italian judge more or less declared the Internet and all Internet activity illegal for Italians. Obviously his Lavazza did not agree with him that morning.

When this law came into effect originally no one really bothered and the Italian media was generally happy about this as it could mean that online publications would be restricted to a level that was manageable.

All publications were required to register in Italy and be licensed and hence no one really was too concerned about this also being applied to online publications of which there were not all that many in those days.

With Blogs now the scene has changed. The number of Bloggers in Italy, as elsewhere, has skyrocketed and Bloggers, like everywhere, also in Italy reported and report material that many newspapers are not willing to publish.

The entire thing did not seem to be a problem until recently when now already the seciond Blogger in Italy is on trial because of violation of the law that requires the registration and licensing of an online publication.

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 it an online newspaper, and hence brought it within remit of the law.

The penalties for this crime are not to be laughed at either. It is a fine of 250 Euros (this is not directly much) or a prison sentence of up to two years. The Blogger in question was fined and ordered to take down his site, which has now been replaced by a blank page, headed "Site under construction", and a link directing surfers to his new site. While this is hardly serious stuff and one should think that the Italian authorities had more to worry about than Blogger (how about the Mafia for a change?) with the exception that this Blogger 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.

In an attempt, supposedly, to fight against Fascism Italy contravened its own constitution and made fascist laws. Brilliant.

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, and this now makes most Blogs a clandestine publication. Doh?

Maybe, as regards to Blogger Carlo Ruta it must be noted that in his Blog he wrote about the connections between the Mafia and members of the government. Always a problematic subject in Italy and one that has gotten many a journalist killed by now.

Now Italian Bloggers are up in arms at a court ruling early this year that suggests almost all Italian Blogs are illegal. And in November 2008, a senior Italian politician took this entire thing just one step further, by suggesting and warning that most Internet activity is likely to be against the law. Pardon?

Since the first incident in May, a Calabrian journalist and Blogger, Antonino Monteleone, has also fallen foul of local magistrates, suggesting that the link between the Mafia issue is a very valid one. In other words it is the judges, in the pay of the Mafia (now there is a surprise – NOT) and/or the politicians that are in the same category, that use laws as it suits them to sielence those that dig too deep into the relations between the Mob and the government, whether local or central.

Nevertheless this is still something that must be watched for we never know how the European Union suddenly will stand to this and the fast that under some laws any online journal, any Blogs, could be considered a clandestine newspaper.

As a little side note: It would appear that the Minesweeper programs of many of the local authorities in the UK, for instance, single out every independent Blog to be blocked, such as those that are on the Blogger platform, and others. This means that local government employees, in most instances in Britain, cannot access Blogs, not even for the case of reading the news there. Censorship?!? Yes, it is.

© M Smith (Veshengro), November 2008