A committee of the Italian Senate voted unanimously on 3 May 2016, a draft amendment to the Penal Code which will increase the criminal penalties for those accused of defamation against members of the political class, the judiciary or public administration. The draft law will soon be submitted to the Senate for adoption. Specifically, the text envisages raising the maximum sentence from 6 to 9 years in prison, if the defamation concerns a politician, a judge or a public servant. The bill was denounced by the Italian Order of Journalists, the Italian Federation of Journalists Organisations and the NGO Ossigeno per l'Informazione, which recall that another draft bill, introduced in 2012 proposed outright decriminalisation of defamation. In 2013, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, addressed a letter to the then Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino, to remind her of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, which considers that prison sentences for defamation are a disproportionate sanction and a threat to democracy.
The organisations submitting this alert hold firmly to the principle, which has been established in rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, that those who hold high public office should not enjoy additional protections in law but instead should be prepared to accept a higher level of criticism than others.
13 Sep 2016:
On 8 June 2016, the plenary of the Senate has decided to remove from the Bill the provision which would have increased prison terms from six to nine years in case of defamation of elected officials and judges - given the risk of chilling effect on media freedom. On 13 September 2016, the partner organisations of the Platform declared this case to be "resolved”, concluding it was no longer an active threat to media freedom.
21 Jun 2016
Reply from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
27 May 2016
Defamation penalty in Italy needs to be considered for its effect on free expression, OSCE media representative says
27 May 2016
Venice Commission Opinion on the Legislation on Defamation of Italy (December 2013)