Area: 301,340 sq.km.
Head of state: President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Head of government: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
The conflict between prime minister Berlusconi’s business and political interests remains a special case in Europe. But in 2004, the judiciary was the source of most attacks on press freedom, imposing prison sentences on journalists and increasingly challenging the privacy of sources.
The conflict of interest surrounding prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi continues to threaten the media’s independence. The government has tried to give the impression it wants to resolve the conflict, but Berlusconi, who owns three nationwide TV networks and country’s biggest press and publishing group, pushed the "Gasparri Law" through parliament on 29 April 2004 reforming broadcasting but protecting his private interests.
It allows multiple media ownership and changes anti-monopoly rules and the make-up of the board of the state-owned TV network RAI, all measures favouring the prime minister’s Mediaset group. Another flagrant example of conflict of interest was a 28 January vote by the senate exempting his terrestrial TV station Retequattro from having to become a satellite station before 31 December 2004 as the Constitutional Court had demanded.
Berlusconi’s direct interference in media operations, such as his blacklisting of state media journalists who criticised him, was less marked during the year however. Instead it was the courts who led attacks on press freedom.
The UN Human Rights Commission, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are calling for abolition of prison sentences for press offences and trying to spread the idea worldwide, especially in the new European Union (EU) member and prospective-member states. Meanwhile in Italy, one of the EU’s founders, two journalists were sentenced to prison terms in 2004, as were others (for libel) in 2001 and 2002. However no journalist is currently in jail in Italy.
Two journalists sentenced to prison
Massimiliano Melilli, formerly with the local weekly Il Meridiano, was sentenced on appeal in the northeastern city of Trieste on 24 February to 18 months imprisonment for libel and fined €100,000. He had reported in 1996 on rumours about orgies involving the city’s high society, including (though not named in the article) Rosanna, wife of the then mayor Riccardo Illy, current president of the Friuli-Venezia region.
Melilli and the paper’s editor, Francesco Paticchio, had received 18-month sentences from a lower court though the prosecution had only asked for six months. The appeals court freed Paticchio for health reasons and Melilli lodged a further appeal.
A court in the northern town of Lodi imposed a suspended 20-day prison sentence on Fabrizio Gatti, of the daily paper Corriere della Sera, on 5 May for "falsely identifying" himself to police who arrested him in January 2000 disguised as a Romanian refugee as part of an investigation into a Milan refugee centre. No journalist or MP had been allowed into the centre, which reportedly had bad sanitary conditions, violated the rights of the immigrants and held some illegally between 1999 and 2000. The centre closed a month after Gatti published his investigation.
The chamber of deputies justice committee approved a libel reform measure on 1 July. The bill, which still has to pass the entire parliament, abolishes prison terms for libel and, though it could be better, is a significant victory for press freedom. The cases of journalists sentenced to prison in the past could now be reviewed.
But the right not to reveal journalistic sources is still very frequently attacked by courts. The European Court of Human Rights considers searching homes and offices of journalists a violation of article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention if it is not justified by a "pressing social need." None of the searches targeting journalists in Italy during the year met this requirement.
Numerous police searches
The Perugia prosecutor’s office ordered police to search the homes and offices of Massimo Martinelli, of the daily Il Messaggero, and Fiorenza Sarzanini, of the daily Corriere della Sera, in Rome on 4 February.
They were accused of violating legal confidentiality rules in articles a week earlier about the death of a doctor suspected of ordering the murder of eight rural couples in Tuscany between 1968 and 1985, carried out by a hitman nicknamed ’the monster of Florence." The journalists were charged with publishing secret details of the enquiry. Documents were seized, as well as computer and mobile phone data.
The Perugia prosecutor ordered a search of the Florence home of Mario Spezi, of the daily La Nazione, in the same case on 18 November. All his files relating to reports in the paper in the 1970s and 1980s were seized, as well as computer data and material for a book he was writing on the case. His family’s home was also raided.
The Genoa prosecutor’s office ordered a police search of the offices of the Milan weekly Gente and the home of journalist Gennaro De Stefano in Rome on 16 August. They seized material about the investigation of violence during demonstrations at the July 2001 G8 nations summit meeting in Milan, a subject the paper was focusing on. De Stefano and the paper’s editor, Umberto Brindani, were told during the raids their names were on a list of people being investigated for illegal possession of documents.
2 journalists were sentenced to prison terms
and 5 media premises searched