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Italy's defamation law scrutinised as it awaits review by the Senate

In November 2013, ARTICLE 19 analysed Law No. 925 (Defamation Law) of Italy, currently tabled for review by the Senate, for its compliance with international freedom of expression standards. The law, adopted by the Chamber of Deputies on 17 October 2013, introduces amendments to several laws dealing with civil and criminal defamation.

ARTICLE 19 has been long concerned about the imprisonment of journalists in Italy for defamation. We have repeatedly called on the Italian parliament to amend the outdated defamation laws.

We welcome efforts to improve defamation legislation. However, we find the reform only partial, as several provisions of the Defamation Law are incompatible with international freedom of expression standards. In particular:

  • criminal liability for insult and defamation is retained;
  • the Defamation Law includes excessive fines and the prohibition from exercising the profession of journalist;
  • the period for filing a civil action for damages is long; and
  • criteria for the determination of compensation awards for defamation does not require that the awards be proportionate to the harm.

The Defamation Law also fails to deal with other problematic provisions of the Criminal Code such as criminal liability for insult of the President, or defamation of the Republic, the constitutional institutions, armed forces, and the Italian nation.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Italian senate to consider carefully the calls and arguments of international bodies for decriminalisation of defamation and abolish criminal defamation in its entirety. If criminal defamation is retained the fines for defamation should be reduced and the set minimum should be removed.

In addition, we call for:

  • abolishment of the prohibition of journalists from exercising their profession, as it is incompatible with international standards;
  • a limit to the period for filing a defamation suit;
  • a ceiling for the compensation awards amount; and
  • abolishment of criminal liability for insult of the President, and defamation of the Republic, the constitutional institutions, armed forces and the Italian nation.

ARTICLE 19's review of the new defamation law of Italy was commissioned by the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.

The full legal analysis is available here.

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