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In Italy, vote postponed on Berlusconi's ‘gag law’

Berlusconi finds a wiretap bill more difficult to pass than expected. (AP/Riccardo De Luca)

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is leaving for vacation in a very bad mood. On Thursday, the House of Deputies, although dominated by Berlusconi’s center-right coalition, decided to postpone until September its vote on a wiretap bill that had been considered a bellwether by a government wracked by internecine wars and confronted with ominous poll predictions.

Berlusconi’s phone-tapping initiative was aimed at sharply limiting the use of wiretaps issued by magistrates in the context of police investigations and at harshly penalizing journalists who would publicize the contents of these recordings.

Presented by its sponsors as a tool to protect privacy, the bill was denounced as an attempt by the prime minister to protect himself and his political friends from accusations of corruption, mafia connections, and “loose morality.” As Rachel Donadio of The New York Times put it, “in recent months Italians have learned through leaked wiretaps about Monica, a Brazilian masseuse hired by Guido Bertolaso, the head of the Civil Protection Agency, who is under investigation for corruption” and about “Angelo Balducci, a former member of the board of Italy’s public works department” who was caught in a wiretapped conversation “asking a singer in a Vatican choir about a potential date.”

Among many other contentious clauses, like the requirement “for all those responsible for information websites” to issue corrections within 48 hours to any complaint regarding content, the bill would have limited police wiretaps to two months for most criminal investigations. To the ire of Italian journalists, it would also have forbidden the publication of any kind of information obtained through leaked phone-tapping before the start of a criminal trial, a process that in the long-winding ways of Italian justice may take up to five years.

Silvio Berlusconi was confident that his appeal to the grand principles of the sanctity of private life, his control over most of Italy’s audiovisual media, both private and public, and his parliamentary majority would allow him to push the bill through Congress.

Although the bill was passed in the Italian senate on June 10, it hit unexpectedly bumpy roads everywhere else. Most of the press rebelled against the legge bavaglio (gag law), enlisting even media institutions owned by Il Cavagliere. On July 9, most newspaper, radio and TV journalists went on a 24-hour strike, shutting down news around the country to protest the law.

The judiciary and the police also reacted angrily, insisting that the proposed law would, in the words of Antonio Ingroia, a famous anti-mafia attorney in Palermo, “strike a lethal blow to inquiries on corruption, organized crime and its political collusion.”

The “no” campaign became international when Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of information and expression, called on the Italian government to “abolish or revise” the bill, and the media freedom representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe “urged Italy to amend the bill.”

In addition, the European Union committed itself to reviewing the measure and U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Beuer, according to The New York Times, “expressed concern about the bill’s impact on the longstanding collaboration between the American and Italian authorities in organized crime and counterterrorism investigations.

Finally the “gag law” gave an argument to Gianfranco Fini, Berlusconi’s main rival in his ruling coalition, The People of Liberty. Referring to the need to combat corruption, the president of the House of Deputies expressed his opposition to the bill and actively maneuvered to have it amended or postponed. This is exactly what happened: The law was watered down on July 22, and then action was postponed entirely on Thursday. The air is so poisoned within the coalition that some pundits predict early elections that might have dire consequences for Berlusconi’s party.

Many Italian journalists concede that violations of privacy are at times a real issue in Italy. On June 10, The Economist underlined that aspect by referring to “the routine trampling on the rights of suspects and others caught up in investigations … often creating a presumption of guilt that is difficult to reverse.”

Most journalists, however, congratulate themselves on the impact of their campaign. They see it as a first victory in the midst of an Italian media scene that has been excessively dominated by Berlusconi’s “private empire” and by his crude intervention in the public service broadcasting system.

As important, the rebellion against the bill also turned what might have been denounced as a “corporatist reaction”—the protection of a journalistic “peeping” privilege—into an issue for the whole Italian society: the press as a watchdog defending its freedom to report in order to expose the abuses of power.

At the international level this Italian controversy also reminds everyone that an attack against press freedom in a specific country has an impact outside of its borders, not only because it reduces access to essential information in transnational criminal investigations, but also because it tends to establish a precedent that may inspire other governments facing accusations of corruption or bad governance.

(Reporting from Brussels)

July 30, 2010 3:02 PM ET | | Comments (5)

Comments

"the press as a watchdog defending its freedom to report in order to expose the abuses of power". the press is the embodiment of democracy, freedom, and rights. taking away the privilege of interfering with the government is taking away the rights of the people.

The amalgamation of two political parties : Forza Italia and National Alliance, both of them belonged to right-wing gave both leaders the privilege to be co-founder.

During the amalgamation, Sig. Berlusconi autoprocaimed the leader of the new party. He ignored his partner to know about his political partner.

However, the actual P. M. of Italy entred directly in the political affairs after his friend and the leader of Italian Socialist Party and emeritus first left PM was dethronized because he and the members of his cabinet were involved in corructions, nepotism,favorotism, using the financial money, for their lucrative interests.

Furthermore, the establishment of the new political party the mafia were involved . Since he became the PM of Italy from 1994, he had the criminal cases with the Italian Courts for different motives.

During his mandates ( this is the third time) ha had the majority in both level of parliament and he made solely the so called in Latin: "Personam juris", and all of them were inconsistent with the Constitutional Italian Act.

When the Constitutional Court delibered that the legislated laws did not have the legal force or effect.

By the way, he always says the members of the Court belonged to the left wings and they are aganist with him......

Sig. Fini began the political affairs when he was a university student at the Catholic University "La Sapienza". He associated to the Fascist political party because he felt love with a youn married woman. His maternal grand-dad was member of Fascist Party, during the Fascist regime. In fact, he was one of the founder of the Republic of Salo' after the Fascist regime declained after the Amnistace. (September 08, 1946). On the other hand, his dad and paternal dad belonged to the Italian Communist Party, Sig. Fini became the leader of political party and chanced the constitution of the political part. During his vissit in Israel, he condomned the Fascist regime. The grand daughter of the Duce , the Hon. Alexandra Mussolini left the political party in segn of indignation.

All Italian people knew that the political party's amalgamation seems like as the marriage for convenience because the co-fonders are diametrically opposite. Sig. Berlusconi is an opportunist, despotic, arrogant and a selfish leader.
On the contrary, Sig. Fini is realist,democratic,friendly humble, and altuist.

Therefore,we knew that the marriage of combination is realized without of love,mutual respect and it is dissoluble.
Everybody goes to his way, the power is plebished and the Italian elctors have the power in their hunds, sonner or later.

Gian Ugo Felici

After the leader and founder leader of Fascist Party, Sir

i think it's worth adding that the last few months protests in italy relied heavily on internet tools and initiatives, even more so against the so-called "blog-killing" provision still included in the final bill after its many changes and the lifting of the "gag rule" for mainstream media journalist

one example is the large rally held on july 1 downtown rome and the mobilization in front of the parliament the other day, july 29, when the floor discussion was eventually postponed, both organized mostly via online word-of-mouth and activism

this broad alliance of citizens and journalists to defend everybody's rights to freedom of information is a relatively new move, and there is certainly due also to the the ever-intoxicating berlusconi’s media empire; but it also signals the emergence of a new level of public awareness and participation worldwide...

some good coverage of such citizen-media initiatives, including this italian instance, can be found on global voices online: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2010/07/29/italy-no-to-restrictions-on-online-free-speech/

While in some countries such as Slovakia the European crisis has brought down the whole government Berlusconi seems to be quite confident as far as the future development of his country is concerned. However, it is the situation in Italy and the country's possible default that would destroy all hopes placed in the current EFSF and other rescue packages recently approved by every European country.

It all sounds very strange, all I know you don't know what happens behind closed doors. Noemi sounds extremely cheeky, flirty, a sleezy young girl who knows what she wants and plays the game to get what she wants. Why would Mr Berlusconi give a girl a very expensive gift that is not even his blood daughter. I don't know Mr Silivo Berlusconi's wife or her personality but I have seen a lot of young girls who use there beauty to get what they want and abuse it. They play innocent and virgins when they are the opposite. Im sorry but I have no high opinion of a person who gets involved with a married man or women. Where are your morals and respect Noemi Letizia, its looks like you have none at all. All I know it does take two to tango, Noemi Letizia knew Mr Berlusconi was married with children, how could you Noemi. Dirty.


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