Media fury over Berlusconi's “gag”


(Morning Star) — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government has won a confidence vote in the Senate on a bill that curbs wiretaps and imposes fines on news organisations that report leaked information on criminal investigations.

The upper house of parliament in Rome backed the measure 164 to five and the bill will now go to the Chamber of Deputies for final approval.

Under the new legislation, which critics have branded a "gag law," journalists risk imprisonment and publishers could be fined as much as 450,000 euros (£308,000) for reporting information gathered from law-enforcement wiretaps.

The legislation also restricts the use of wiretaps in criminal investigations by requiring more evidence before police can begin recording suspects' conversations.

The measure would limit any wiretaps to 75 days.

Special authorisation would be needed to tap the phones of parliamentarians and priests.

According to US-based think tank Freedom House, the new rules "are out of line with prevailing best practice for decriminalising press."

The journalists' union has called a strike for July 9 and vowed "all-out, unending resistance."

And Italian media protested against the bill on Friday - with the left-leaning La Repubblica running a front page with no news but only a tiny "post-it" style yellow memo reading: "The gagging law will deny citizens the right to be informed."

In an editorial, editor in chief Ezio Mauro said: "We are running a blank front page to tell readers that democracy has been short-circuited."

Corriere della Sera called it "a dark day" for justice and L'Unita ran its headline with a typeface that was used when fascist dictator Benito Mussolini controlled the media.

Mr Berlusconi insists that the new rules are needed to protect privacy.

But the opposition has accused his right-wing government of crafting a law designed to cover up corruption.

The bill, which will now return to the lower house for final approval, languished in parliament for months.

But the Berlusconi administration swiftly dusted it off after newspapers printed leaked transcripts from a high-profile corruption inquiry into public works contracts that has tainted Mr Berlusconi's cabinet and forced the Industry Minister Claudio Scajola to resign.

Photo: Silvio Berlusconi/Morning Star

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