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Italian bloggers strike

Proposed law would fine web sites denounced for defamation.

In a country where the prime minister owns the three largest commercial TV channels, the biggest publishing house, a leading advertising agency, and — as head of state — oversees Italian public television, RAI, bloggers represent a fresh breeze of critical voices.

A blog reader like Damiano Zito, a 22-year-old engineering student from southern Italy, put it bluntly: “If bloggers start shutting down, I won’t have any alternative source of information.”

But Antonio Palmieri, a Parliament member from Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party (PdL), said the Alfano law aims at stopping bloggers from abusing the freedom of the internet.

“How would you feel if you were anonymously insulted on the internet every day?” he said.

Palmieri defended the “Alfano” proposal but also said it was written as an emotional reaction. He is working to improve the language of the proposal by clarifying what kinds of blogs and web sites should be liable. Palmieri thinks bigger blogs and online newspapers that affect public opinion should be regulated.

The Alfano proposal updates a 1948 law that was passed to regulate newspapers created after World War II. The law required newspapers to either correct published information that citizens denounced as defamatory or be subject to a fine. The Alfano proposal extends the rule to so-called “Information Sites.”

Bloggers demonstrating in Piazza Navona called it a “geriatric” reaction by Italian Parliament members who don’t understand the nature of the web. But recent Italian events shed a different light on this latest attempt to regulate the Italian web — maybe more strategic than geriatric.

In 2007, a YouTube video of a recorded phone call between then-opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi and a former RAI director exposed Berlusconi to public scrutiny. In the call, Berlusconi asked the RAI director to hire two women as a favor for a senator of the majority. Berlusconi said explicitly that he expected the senator to return the favor by helping him regain a Parliamentary majority.

Recently, now-Prime Minister Berlusconi has been under heavy public scrutiny for an ambiguous relationship with an 18-year-old aspiring TV star. Within days, the internet was saturated with satirical renditions of the alleged relationship via print, audio photo and video.

“This government is formed by people who for 30 years got used to having a tight grip on the media,” said Scorza.

“The principle of accountability is sacred and I think that anyone posting information of public interest should be accurate,” said Scorza, “but the way they [legislators] want to apply the principle is twisted.”

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Editor's note: The article was updated to clarify Scorza's comments.