Italy: RSF urges the senators to reject an amendment that could prevent journalists from revealing judicial cases

The Senate is due to examine a proposed amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure which would ban the media from publishing a pre-trial detention order until the end of the preliminary hearing. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Italian senators to reject the proposal, which threatens the freedom of journalists working on judicial cases.

Investigative journalists, crime reporters and those covering judicial cases are very worried. An amendment to the Italian Code of Criminal Procedure, described by some media professionals as “legge bavaglio” (“gag law”) is due to be examined by the Senate after being passed by the lower house on 19 December. It prohibits the “publication, in whole or in part, of the text of the pre-trial detention order until the conclusion of the preliminary investigation or until the end of the preliminary hearing”, with no exceptions for journalists covering judicial cases.

Proposed by Enrico Costa, a deputy from the center-left opposition party Azione, the amendment aims to protect the presumption of innocence and prevent defendants from being “tried by the media”. However, several Italian journalists’ associations and unions are denouncing what they call “state censorship” and are threatening an all-out strike.

If passed by the Senate, the amendment will prohibit all persons, including professional journalists, from publishing the text of a pre-trial detention order – including the grounds for detention and any seizures, wiretaps, hearings etc. – before the start of the trial. As a result, reporters will be limited to interpreting the order in very general terms to explain why someone has been placed in pre-trial detention. The inability to quote from the detention order will expose journalists, who respect the presumption of innocence, to the possibility of defamation proceedings.

The concern among journalists is all the greater as several major corruption and organised crime cases have been revealed thanks to access to detention orders and related material. This is what several Italian crime reporters have told RSF, citing in particular the corruption case at the European Parliament at the end of 2022 known as Qatargate.

“A shadow is hanging over press freedom in Italy. While RSF recognises the paramount importance of respecting the presumption of innocence, we fear that the 'legge bavaglio' will hamper the ability of journalists to cover judicial investigations involving, among others, politicians. It is unacceptable that reporters, who provide information in the public interest and respect journalistic ethics, are sanctioned or forced to remain silent. We call on Senators to reject the amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure as it stands, and to include guarantees protecting journalists from prosecution.

Pavol Szalai
Head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk

Baseless legal grounds

To justify the adoption of the legislation, the amendment’s supporters argue that it is needed to “ensure full compliance with Directive (EU) 2016/343 of the European Parliament and Council of 9 March 2016” which concerns the presumption of innocence. But there is no legal basis for such a transposition obligation. In addition, the National Press Federation of Italy (FNSI) and some regional press associations and editorial committees insist that the proposed law “goes beyond European provisions and violates Article 21 of the Constitution”, according to which, “the press cannot be subject to authorisation or censorship”.

Italy is ranked 41st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2023 World Press Freedom Index.

46/ 180
Score : 69.8
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