|How an Italian judge made the internet
New technology? It's all a mistake By John
26th September 2008 11:40 GMT
Italian bloggers are up in arms at a court ruling early
this year that suggests almost all Italian blogs are illegal.
This month, a senior Italian politician went one step further,
warning that most web activity is likely to be against
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, that made it an online newspaper, and brought
it within the law’s remit
The penalties for this crime are not onerous: A fine of
250 Euros or a prison sentence of up to two years. Carlo
Ruta was fined and ordered to take down his
site (http://www.accadeinsicilia.net/), which has now
been replaced by a blank page, headed "Site under construction",
and a link directing surfers to his
new site (http://www.leinchieste.com/prima_pagina.html).
Hardly serious stuff – except that he 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.
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 (http://www.interlex.it/testi/l01_62.htm), passed
in March 2001, introduces the concept of "stampa clandestina" to
The suspicion expressed by a number of commentators is
that this extension of the law suited government and publishers
alike. The state was able to maintain its benevolent stranglehold
on the media, whilst publishers could use the system of
authorisation and regulation as a means to extend state
subsidies to their ventures on the internet.
What few noticed at the time was that this law had the
capacity to place blogs on a par with full-blown journalism.
It would only take a judge to decide that something as
simple as a headline was what defined a "newspaper".
One of the supporters of this law in 2001 was Giuseppe
Giulietti, now a Deputy with the Italia di Valori Parliamentary
Back then, he brushed aside criticism of the proposed
law with the reassurance that "The Press Law has never
had as its objective the regulation of the online community".
What a difference a few years make. Earlier this month,
the same Giuseppe Giulietti could be found writing to the
Minister for Justice that "current logic means that almost
the entire Italian internet, by its very nature, could
be considered illegal – "stampa clandestina" – which
is a complete contravention of the democratic rulebook".
So is this just a storm in a teacup? After all, if this
law potentially affects some 5 million Italian websites,
there are at least 4,999,999 that have not yet been taken
down. Why was Carlo Ruta singled out?
One clue lies in the location of the court that found
him guilty (Sicily). Another, in the fact that his blog
contained much detailed research of links between politics
and the mafia – always a sensitive subject in Italy.
Since May, a Calabrian journalist and blogger, Antonino
Monteleone (http://www.antoninomonteleone.it/), has
also fallen foul of local magistrates, suggesting that
the genie is now well and truly out of the bottle. Failing
a reversal of the Ruta ruling in a higher court, it is
going to need action at the parliamentary level to guarantee
an Italian freedom to blog and to return the law to what
most Italians believed it to be