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Italy20 June 2006

A blogger unfairly convicted of defamation

Reporters Without Borders condemned a 13,500-euro sentence against blogger Roberto Mancini in fines, damages and costs imposed by a court in Val d’Aosta, in northern Italy on 26 May 2006, after local journalists brought a defamation suit.

Mancini, 59, is suspected of creating a US-hosted blog in 2005 - Il Bolscevicostanco, which reports on local news in sarcastic and crude terms. Using the pseudonym, General Sukhov, he apparently wrote several articles directly attacking local figures.

The case was brought by two journalists on regional newspaper Gazzetta Matin, Luca Mercanti and Christina Porta, the press officer for the Val d’Aosta regional chamber of trade and of a local firm, Pier Maria Minuzzo, and a webmaster, Marco Camilli.

"The columns by-lined General Sukhov are certainly written in an extreme style, but the complainants were not able to show they were untrue,” the press freedom organisation said.

“It looks like the blogger is being punished for his bad language and not because he posted false information, which is unacceptable. He was found responsible for comments posted on his blog by some of his readers, a decision which goes against European jurisprudence.”

“This verdict could well have a negative effect on the Italian blogosphere, in pushing people running a blog into wrongly censoring messages posted by visitors,” said Reporters Without Borders.

The organisation added that defamation complaints against journalists and bloggers should go before civil courts, and not as in the case, to a criminal court which could hand down prison sentences.

Mancini, a former vice-president of the Val d’Aosta regional order of journalists for six years, was fined 3,000 euros, ordered to pay damages of 2,000 euros to each of the three complainants and 4,500 euros costs (13,500 euros in total).

He will not have to pay unless the sum is confirmed on appeal. The verdict was based on Article 595 of the criminal procedure code applying to defamation but making no reference to the 1948 press law, a blogger not being considered a journalist in Italy.

The verdict however requires that the “manager of a blog controls everything that is posted” and that, like a newspaper editor, “he has a duty to remove any messages which are offensive.”

The judge said that the information posted on the blogs was partly true, but was not reported appropriately. Condemning the vulgar tone used by General Sukhov, he said “Mancini expresses himself in a manner best suited to a brothel.”


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