Westchester attorney thinks Italian blog strike is shedding light on journalist dilemma in cyberspace

Something is going on in the blogosphere today that probably will not get the attention Italian bloggers are hoping for.  They are on a so-called “blog strike,” protesting a law that has become known as the “Alfano Law” in Italy which requires any one entity or person which posts so-called “offensive” information on their site to take it down within 48 hours or risk being fined – heavily.  That’s the essence of the measure, which I have been able to gather in cyberspace, but much of the coverage on this issue is naturally biased because it is written by bloggers themselves.  I have tried to no avail (& I am a pretty damn good researcher) to find an English translation of the text of this statute.  If anyone has one, I would appreciate them posting a link in a comment here.

I write as an award-winning journalist and know that with that profession comes great responsibility to “get it right;” however, as clearly evidenced in the wake of Michael Jackson’s death, the need to get it right these days, even by professional journalists, is far outweighed by the need to report it quickly.  Bloggers, who now think of themselves as “citizen journalists” want to be able to blab about whatever they feel like without any responsibility for the repercussions which might follow their published opinions.

As an American journalist and lawyer, I value the freedom of expression we are afforded in this country but also understand that it brings great responsibility.  Further, what is offensive in one community, such as a town in the rural south, may be nothing much in liberal New York City.  It’s a fluctuating measure of morality and is judged accordingly in this country.  As to the new Italian Law, I would not presume to take an opinion on it one way or another without seeing the actual statute.

Yet, the Alfano Law seems to deal with material that may be blatantly inaccurate or defamatory.  In this country there are civil and/or criminal actions available to offended parties, as I am sure there are in Italy.  However, when someone alleges that a libel has occurred in the media, the news outlet will often print a retraction or correction.  Why should bloggers be any different?  If you want to consider yourself a “journalist” (which is truly laughable) then why should you not shoulder the same responsibilities and obligations that true professional journalists must bear?  Why should you not be held to a similar standard?

Cyberspace has unfortunately leveled the playing field in the world of journalism.  Professionals are

Has the blogosphere become the 21st Century Tower of Babel?

Has the blogosphere become the 21st Century Tower of Babel?

lowering their standards to pander to the minions and keep up with the fast pace of the dissemination of information, while bloggers have raised themselves to a level they have not earned.  As an award-winning journalist I pride myself on my high ethical standard of excellence for not just getting the story but for getting it right.  Sadly, the gloves have come off and the professional sheen on the reportage of global affairs has been permanently tarnished.  Cyberspace is the new age Tower of Babel and we know that when excessive pride results in obsessive and over-reaching competition among humanity, the ability to communicate is left in ruin.

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7 thoughts on “Westchester attorney thinks Italian blog strike is shedding light on journalist dilemma in cyberspace

  1. The fact that you did not find the law in English might depend on the fact that it’s not a law yet. It is a proposal, that was supposed to be discussed these days in the Parliament, but I believe it has been postponed to September.

    Apparently the President intervened to convince the government to reconsider some of the norms on wire tapping. That’s what the whole reform is about. they want to limit the diffusion of transcripts used in trials. The journalists see this as a limitation of their freedom of speech and of the citizens’ right to information. The journalists were supposed to be on strike too, today. But they revoked their protest because the minister Alfano agreed on opening a debate with them.

    I believe the bloggers agree with you completely: they are not journalists. They want personal blogs to remain just that. One of the proposals is to create an “albo”, a registry in which all the bloggers should be recorded and so they should receive the title of citizen journalists. Then the same restrictions that apply for real journalist would be extended to all forms of online publications (blogs, twitter, facebook, etc.)

    I agree that if you publish something derogatory you should retract. But here the matter is much more controversial. What if what you publish turns out to be true? In this country trials go on for 7 years, and the highest public personalities (prime minister, president, etc.) cannot be put on trial while they are in office. Did you know that? (Lodo Alfano, and this is a law (L. 124/08). Do you know that “ronde” (rounds) have been recently allowed? Thank God by unarmed patrols. At least until something serious happens and we get to regret accepting it without a blink.

    I believe it’s the obligation to retract and take your opinions off-line that bothers individual bloggers (who know VERY well that they are not journalists, nor do they want to be considered as such!). I think it’s also the way. Essentially if you publish something about Mr. X and Mr. X believes that’s derogatory, they can force you to rectify your statement within 48 ours. If you don’t they can fine you (serious fines) and even interrupt the hosting service. The server people are also held liable for what they host.

    What if you believe what you write to be true and want to support your claims? What if your claims cannot be disproved?

    What offends me is the way. It think it’s a dictatorial way of managing freedom of speech, even if I agree with you that some rules are necessary. And certainly that bloggers are not journalists, or at least most of them.

    If you don’t trust the bloggers, at least read Umberto Eco’s opinion, published on L’Espresso, a left-wing current affairs periodical.
    http://is.gd/1yNGD

    Thank you for the link to my blog (which is about living in Tuscany, so unless the occasional restaurant that I don’t like obliges me to rectify, I should be ok no matter what!)

    Gloria

    • Ciao Gloria & grazie per tutti commenti. I am glad that I live in a country where we honor freedom of the press and of speech. And as I said, without seeing this statute, I will not comment on it per se. However, I think you are wrong about what bloggers think of themselves. I am not talking about the benign travel, fashion or beauty blog. I am talking about bloggers who post about politics, people, news, issues. If they didn’t want people to read it and if they didn’t want it to be heard, they wouldn’t be blogging. They are looking for their 15 minutes of fame and many of them do consider themselves “journalists” when they are not. They would not know the first thing about sourcing and researching a story in the correct manner and never vet a source before publishing their comments. This is a real sore spot with me because they have destroyed the way traditional media covers a story and there is no turning back.

    • Love Gloria’s comment, and I’ll also throw something else in the mix…if we’re really concerned with the flow of information on the Internet, shouldn’t this be an issue that some international court takes up? What good does it do if only Italian bloggers have these rules? My guess is that tech-savvy ones would simply figure out how to reroute their ISP anyway. So, Lisa, why isn’t this being proposed in the US, where there are FAR more internet users even proportionally than in Italy? You want to call up your senator? 😉

      I don’t argue that there are negative aspects to “citizen blogging,” namely the premature release of what turns out to be misinformation, but I would also argue that blogging and so-called citizen journalists have actually changed things for the better in many ways as well; we private citizens are getting *a lot* more TRUE information on many topics that we would never have gotten if we relied on the traditional media (some of whom, in the opinions of many of us, lack journalistic standards despite their degrees…and this happened before the Internet).

      IMHO what needs to change is the mindset that we should believe everything we read whether it’s from bloggers who report or from traditional journalists. “Consider the source” has never been more apt.

  2. Agreed with all of your points in the comment, but we also have to remember why we have defamation laws (and civil remedies for defamation) in the first place, i.e., to balance one person’s right to free speech with another’s right to not have their reputation ruined because of falsities. I think what you’re seeing in this sciopero is really more a reaction to the many laws that this government has tried to pass to limit its citizens’ rights to freedom of speech via Internet (they also at one point wanted us all to register and, of course, pay them to have blogs) than simply just a problem with this specific legislation. The whole slippery slope thing is always particularly scary when we’re talking about basic freedoms…even in this semi-fascist society. I’m actually quite proud to see Italians stand up and fight about this.

  3. One thing that you may not know about Italy is that there is a *lot* of hoop-jumping (and dues-paying) to have the “honor” of being in the guild of journalists…and by this I mean YOU CANNOT BE A JOURNALIST IN ITALY without this licensure. That is precisely what makes this law so ridiculous; the government tells you can’t be a journalist because you haven’t met its criteria, but then oops, if you write something, anything that someone objects to, you’re under the same obligations as a journalist to print a retraction BUT you get none of the privileges of being a “journalist.”

    And yes, defamation laws already cover this issue in a civil context; this law is seeking to make defamation punishable by the government, i.e., criminal.

    So you’re telling me you’d be for this law if this were the American government considering fining private citizens for what they write on personal blogs because they don’t retract something within 2 days? God forbid you go on a long weekend…..

    • Michelle, thank you for the clarification of how journalists are required to be licensed in Italy. You are correct in that I was unaware of that practice. It would seem that this Alfano Law, which I still have not seen in translation, is just a further thorn in a society which does not allow a free press, a freedom we often take for granted in the United States. That being said, I do not place any stock in bloggers who truly believe themselves to be “journalists.” I worked and studied too hard and honed my skills and sources too well to be compared to people who just want to spout from a soap box in cyberspace. It is their dangerous ego inflation and desire for five minutes in the spotlight that is making it much more difficult for true professional journalists to do their job well and accurately. A true journalist, licensed or not, would never put out some of the idiocy often being published as “news.” Further, once that blog brush fire is lit, it spreads until all rational discussion or investigation of an issue is obliterated by the smoke screen of blogger babel. Unfortunately, the horse has left the stable and there seems to be no way of reining it back.

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