Italy: Defamation reform fails to provide for protection of media freedom

Italy: Defamation reform fails to provide for protection of media freedom - Civic Space

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ARTICLE 19 Europe is concerned about the scope of the proposed reform of the Italian legislation on defamation, currently pending in the Parliament. While this reform is long overdue, the proposal is not comprehensive enough to adequately safeguard journalists and protect the right to freedom of expression in Italy. We recommend that defamation is fully decriminalised. We also call on the government to undertake a comprehensive review of civil defamation legislation and to provide a robust framework to tackle and prevent the growing phenomenon of SLAPPs in Italy.

ARTICLE 19 Europe has previously voiced serious concerns about the proposed reform to Italian defamation legislation and welcomes the opportunity to submit comments to the latest proposal, the so-called ‘Balboni Bill’, currently pending in the Justice Committee of the Senate. Disappointingly, the proposal is very limited in scope and does not bring the Italian legislation into full compliance with international standards on freedom of expression. 

The Bill proposes to remove the penalty of imprisonment for defamation – a step in the right direction – but replaces imprisonment with new, higher fines of up to €50,000. Under international standards on freedom of expression, defamation should be fully decriminalised as civil law offers more effective and proportionate avenues to protect individuals’ reputations and more adequate remedies, including compensation for any harm caused. Indeed, criminal conviction will not provide the defamed person with any compensation as fines are typically paid to the state rather than to the victim of defamation, as in civil law cases.

The Balboni Bill would also expand the scope of criminal sanctions to include suspending journalists from practising their profession and implementing disciplinary measures through the Order of Journalists. ARTICLE 19 argues that the possibility of suspending a journalist from practising their profession is extremely problematic as it is equivalent in effect to a ‘licensing scheme’. Media workers should not be required to obtain official permission before commencing their journalism activities, and it should be presumed that prohibiting journalists from publishing violates international law. Similarly, disciplinary measures by the Order of Journalists – a professional association – should remain solely in the realm of self-regulation, not statutory regulation. 

Finally, ARTICLE 19 Europe notes that decriminalisation of defamation should not happen in isolation. It must be accompanied by civil defamation legislation that fully aligns with international freedom of expression standards, and, given our previously voiced concerns about strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) in Italy, we urge the Justice Committee of the Senate to consider introducing anti-SLAPP measures to the Bill. These include the possibility of early dismissal, provisions mandating a reversal of the burden of proof, the introduction of a cap on damages, and the adoption of a comprehensive system of financial and legal support for defendants in SLAPP cases. 

ARTICLE 19 Europe urges members of the Justice Committee in the Senate to consider these recommendations and to address them in the proposed legislation. We stand ready to provide any additional assistance and expertise amidst ongoing deliberations about this bill and defamation reform more broadly. 


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This legal analysis by ARTICLE 19 Europe is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries, and Ukraine. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.