Press freedom and independence were a major issue in the April 2006 parliamentary election campaign, during which outgoing prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was sanctioned at least three times for overshooting his allotted media-time. As in many European countries, protecting journalistic sources became an issue when police searched the premises of daily papers.
The 9-10 April parliamentary elections were won by the centre-left coalition of Romano Prodi, who became prime minister, replacing Silvio Berlusconi, who was rebuked at least three times for violating electoral law. On 7 April, Berlusconi unexpectedly appeared on the TV station Rete 4 and was interviewed for 20 minutes, despite the intervention of the state broadcasting regulator. The station belongs to the Berlusconi-family-owned Mediaset group, which was fined three times, including €250,000 on one occasion, for bias in favour of its owner’s centre-right coalition. The regulator accused Rete 4 of inviting Berlusconi to appear on the programme “Liberi Tutti” without any opponent and only with journalists who supported him.
The offices of the daily Repubblica in Rome and Milan, and those of the daily Piccolo in Trieste, were searched by tax police on 11 August as part of an investigation into the 2003 CIA kidnapping of former Imam Abu Omar. The homes of two journalists - Cristina Zagaria and Claudio Erné - were also searched and they were accused of “violating legal confidentiality” and “possessing secret documents” for quoting a military intelligence official about the case in their respective papers. The tendency to prosecute journalists for revealing confidential information spread throughout Europe during the year.
The supreme court on 26 October cleared journalist Mario Spezi of involvement in the 1985 murder of a Tuscan doctor and of “insults” for his investigation of a series of unexplained murders (the Monster of Florence case). Spezi, who had been arrested on 7 April and had covered the case for the daily La Nazione, was writing a book about the murders that challenged the police version.
The Perugia prosecutor ordered his home to be searched in November 2004 and police seized material for articles he wrote for the paper in the 1970s and in the 1980s. They also took away computer files and all material to do with his book. He spent 23 days in prison in 2006 and the judge in the case agreed to the prosecutor’s request to hold him in secret for five days, treatment usually reserved for the most dangerous criminals.
Blogger Roberto Mancini was fined €13,500 on 26 May for allowing readers of his blog to post libellous comments about local journalists, a decision that clashed with European jurisprudence and could harm the country’s blogosphere by making editors inclined to unduly censor visitors to their sites.