Reporters Without Borders urges Italy to amend defamation reforms and abandon potential ban on working as journalist News
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Reporters Without Borders urges Italy to amend defamation reforms and abandon potential ban on working as journalist

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the Italian government on Friday to amend their planned reforms to defamation legislation to comply with European and international law. This comes days after amendments to this proposed legislation were revealed to include a potential ban on working as a journalist as well as increased fines.

RSF heavily criticized the Italian bill to reform defamation legislation, highlighting that its “strongly disproportionate sanction[s]” must be brought in line with the requirements of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. On April 5th, the Committee adopted a recommendation that requires member states to create “comprehensive and effective” methods to counter strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAAPs). RSF emphasized Italy’s obligation to ensure their defamation law aligns with this requirement and is not “disproportionate, excessive or unreasonable.”

The Italian legislative reform was initially introduced in 2023 to allow Italy to comply with a Constitutional Court ruling that held the six-year prison sentence for defamation as unconstitutional. The initial reform, proposed by Senator Alberto Balboni, a member of Fratelli d’Italia, the largest party in the ruling coalition, reduced the sentence to four years. Further amendments included a potential ban on journalists working, which could last up to six months. RSF strongly condemned this provision for its potential to conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights. It stated that “journalism is just the professional exercise of a fundamental freedom, the freedom of expression, it cannot be the subject of a priori prohibitions.”

Pavol Szalai, Head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk, urged the Italian government to comply with European standards:

The right to defend oneself against defamation is a legitimate one, but it must not muzzle press freedom. The preservation of anti-constitutional prison sentences for this offense is absolutely unacceptable. As for the ban on working as a journalist included in the reform of the defamation law, it is not only disproportionate but also contrary to the recommendations for combatting SLAPPs made by the Council of Europe and European Union.