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Draft law threatens to silence journalists

(IPI/IFEX) - The International Press Institute (IPI) calls on representatives of the Italian Parliament to reject "draft law 1415", a legislative proposal that threatens to limit journalists' ability to provide the public with vital information.

The draft law*, proposed by Italian Minister of Justice Angelino Alfano, has already passed in the lower house of parliament and is currently under discussion in the Senate. It contains provisions that restrict journalists' right to report on police investigations, and includes heavy punishments for breaching these restrictions.

Article 2 of the draft law, for example, would prohibit journalists from referring to preliminary police investigations in their reporting until these investigations are complete. The same article also forbids reporters to publish any official investigation documentation until hearings in that investigation have started - even if these documents are already in the public domain.

Article 13 of the draft law contains two amendments to the Criminal Code that would increase the punishment for journalists and editors who publish such documents, or who publish leaked police wiretaps. Reporters could face up to three years in prison and editors a fine of up to € 465,000.

"If this law had been in force a few years ago, Italian citizens would have waited years before learning about issues of great public concern such as the fraud against Italian investors involved in the 'Parmalat Scandal'" said Roberto Natale, President of the National Federation of Italian Press.

Leaked wiretaps have frequently been used by Italian investigative reporters to reveal corruption.

"IPI urges the Italian members of parliament to give proper weight to media freedom when discussing this draft law, and to reject it in its current form," said IPI Director David Dadge. "Lawmakers must find a way to balance the presumption of innocence of persons involved in legal investigations against the right of the media to report in the public interest."

IPI recently appealed against a similar law passed in February in the Czech Republic. It also criminalises the use of leaked wiretaps by journalists while restricting their ability to report on ongoing police investigations, with the possibility of a five-year jail term for those who publish anyway, or a fine of over €185,000. The interim Czech government recently acknowledged that the law is problematic, and has stated that amendments will be drafted.

* "Progetto di legge 1415 : Norme in materia di intercettazioni telefoniche, telematiche e ambientali".
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