Italian media strike against privacy bill


Journalists in Italy are on strike Friday to protest against a law planned by Silvio Berlusconi's government that would restrict wiretaps and publication of material gained from them. The FNSI press union called Friday a day of silence to "show the kind of silence that the law would impose".


Starting at 7 am newswires and internet news sites stopped being updated, while all-news TV channels switched to prerecorded programmes, offering only a
midday and an evening newscast.

One paper was on sale: Il Giornale, a right-wing daily owned by Berlusconi's brother, but its editor said he was not happy with the law.

"I am not satisfied with the gag law," said Vittorio Feltri in a video message on Il Giornale's website, "but it is wrong to gag ourselves and deprive ourselves of the only means that allows us to speak to our readers."

In June, the Italian Senate approved the bill, which must now be passed by the lower house and receive President Giorgio Napolitano's signature before becoming law.

One of the most criticised provisions by legal and police authorities is a requirement that a three-judge panel approve successive three-day extensions to an initial 75-day warrant to wiretap conversations.

The bill calls for fines of up to 464,700 euros for journalists or editors who publish transcripts of wiretaps in the media.

The centre-right backs the measure as necessary for the protection of privacy, citing frequent leaks in the media of wiretap transcripts, notably involving Prime Minister Berlusconi.

The measure exempts mafia and terrorism investigations from the restrictions, but anti-mafia prosecutors have protested that it will make it harder for them to trace mafia bosses.

It would be illegal to publish the details of wiretaps until the end of a trial. This would be a particular problem in Italy, because trials often go on for many years.

In June, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said the bill "could seriously hinder investigative journalism in Italy".

Last week, several thousand people rallied in Rome against the law.

Italy's main trade unions also called a transport strike Thursday to protest against working conditions and slow progress in the renewal of the national transport workers' contract, which expired in December 2007.

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