In an interview posted online, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard has voiced support for all the Italian journalists and media workers who will be on strike on 9 July in protest against a proposed reform law of phone taps and video interceptions under which they could be jailed for two months and fined up to 464,700 euros for publishing extracts of phone taps after a judge has ordered their destruction.
Under the proposed law, which has been approved by a senate commission, the same sanctions could be imposed for the publication of certain public documents. The bill would also ban all news media from publishing any information about a judicial investigation until it has been completed and the case has been brought to trial.
Prison sentences could also be imposed on journalists who are not members of registered journalists’ associations and who use hidden cameras or audio recorders in the course of their reporting.
“We hail this protest by the Italian media,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It shows that the protests raised against the bill are not motivated by any irresponsible caprice or desire to defend the interests of a profession. The newsstands will be empty, news websites will hardly be updated and Italians will be only partially provided with news on 9 July. This atypical situation is a foretaste of what could happen in Italy if the Chamber of Deputies fails to do its duty.
“This bill is attacking judicial investigation. If the Italian parliament is ready to change what is the basis of a fundamental press right, why will it stop there? What are we to think of the bill that would require Web TVs to be licensed? How can it be acceptable for state TV stations to be unable to organise political debates during an election campaign? The Italian government is clearly not defending the public interest as regards news and information. We hope that this is not also the case with the parliament, and that Italians will not have to turn to the European Court of Human Rights to obtain protection for their right to free and independently reported news.
“This bill’s impact is not limited to Italy. It is vital that Italy’s parliamentarians take account of the international repercussions it could have in questioning the role of court reporters. The legalisation of censorship by means of an increasingly sophisticated legislative arsenal is growing. Foreign dictatorships have learned to imitate the ambiguities of European laws. Let us not offer them, under the false pretext of defending privacy, a new opportunity to justify their abuses.
“As a founder member of the European Union, Italy has a permanent responsibility in the defence of civil liberties. This bill must not be allowed to undermine this commitment. If Italy turns its back on one of the bases of press independence, how can Europe expect to make its voice heard on the subject of media freedom? What credibility will the European Parliament be able to maintain if it rightly condemns the repressive practices in other countries while tolerating them in one of its own?
“We reiterate our appeal to all the members of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies to refuse to vote for this bill. We hope that the parliament’s democratic culture will prevail. We also appeal to the European Parliament, which is holding a plenary session in Strasbourg, to intervene in this matter. A section of the MEPs have curiously refused to hold a debate on the press freedom situation in Italy. It seems that a bit more attention needs to be paid to the problems, which are persisting and broadening.”