26 September 2008
ENDitorial: A stupid law and a perverse “criminal” sentence
by Giancarlo Livraghi – EDRi-member ALCEI Italy
“Censorship” was abolished and outlawed in Italy sixtytwo years ago. Freedom of the press and of personal opinion is not only established by the Constitution, but also deeply rooted in custom and in all perceptions of civil society. There are, however, some worrying facts. The concentration in a few hands of a large part of the information system. A general, “centralized” myopia of the “dominant culture”, that is partly deliberate manipulation and partly unintentional ignorance. A sly, apparently “benevolent”, culture of superficiality and vagueness that tends to lull, confuse and subdue.
A disturbing maverick, in this context, is the internet. Originally feared, later ambiguously applauded, anyhow misunderstood, the net remains annoying for those who are in the habit of having control and are irritated, if not scared, by a tool that they can’t dominate or “tame”.
It would be long to repeat here what I have written several times, since I published Cassandra in 1996 and continued with eighty articles in Italian (thirteen also in English) in the “freedom and censorship” section of my website. But a recent episode deserves some comment.
In this ambiguous context there are laws and “norms” that are poorly conceived and applied even worse. One, in particular, is the law on “clandestine press” (1948) to which was added, fiftythree years later (2001) a clumsy definition of “authorization” for “journalistic publications” online.
Before we get into this specific subject, let’s look at two articles of the Italian Constitution.
In Article 3 it is stated that «All citizens have equal social status and are equal before the law.» But this isn’t quite so. There are laws (in addition to “social status”) that make some citizens “more equal than others”. And there are several formally organized categories that have improper and unreasonable privileges. In addition to all sorts of limitations (or bureaucratic hindrance) of free enterprise, in business, society and culture, that everyone agrees should be removed, but de facto remain – and sometimes get worse.
In Article 21 it is stated that «Everyone has the right to freely express thoughts in speech, writing, and by all other communication.» Also that «The press may not be controlled by authorization or submitted to censorship.» But this isn’t quite so. There are “authorization” rules (as well as other hindrances and privileges) that get in the way of freedom of information and communication (generally defined as “freedom of the press” ever since the concept was established in 1848 by the “Statuto Albertino” – that in 1861 became the Constitution of what was, at the time, the Kingdom of Italy.)
Within this framework, let’s get to the specific case that has, quite rightly, caused a wave of protest and indignation – and to the two awkward laws that have made it possible. The facts are reported (not always accurately) in several online documents. (see the end of the article)
A “criminal sentence” issued by a Court in Modica (Sicily) on 8 May 2008 condemned historian Carlo Ruta, defining his website “clandestine press” because it wasn’t formally “authorized” as a newspaper or a magazine. (The site was no longer active. It had been “seized” by the police, by order of the Modica Court, in 2004).