Thursday, 6 October 2011

Protect freedom of speech everywhere...

This apparently isn't new news however it has only come to my attention because of Wikipedia's noble stance of temporarily (for now) shutting down their Italian website.  If you now go to their site ( you get redirected to an excellent message explaining the decision (English version here).  The key paragraph(s) relating to the legislation ("DDL intercettazioni" - Wiretapping Act) they are protesting against are:  

"This proposal, which the Italian Parliament is currently debating, provides, among other things, a requirement to all websites to publish, within 48 hours of the request and without any comment, a correction of any content that the applicant deems detrimental to his/her image.

Unfortunately, the law does not require an evaluation of the claim by an impartial third judge - the opinion of the person allegedly injured is all that is required, in order to impose such correction to any website.

Hence, anyone who feels offended by any content published on a blog, an online newspaper and, most likely, even on Wikipedia would have the right for a statement ("correction") to be shown, unaltered, on the page, aimed to contradict and disprove the allegedly harmful contents, regardless of the truthfulness of the information deemed as offensive, and its sources."

In my opinion (hopefully this wont offend anyone - as I have no intention of posting a "correction") but assuming it's true as written above this is absolutely ridiculous.  If someone is offended by anything, no matter how true they could be fined unless their correction is posted in 48 hours.  It strikes me that maybe somebody has just become a bit frustrated with their media coverage and realised how their actions when reported could be detrimental to their interests.  The person doesn't obviously even have to be offended, all they need to do is say that they are in order to get perfectly true information about them hushed up/compromised or even the person reporting it punished.  

Even think of the logistics of the process - how can it be guaranteed that a person will even get the request in that 48 hours (it may have been published by someone who then went for a few days or a holiday away straight after).  In such cases, without the person being aware that they have offended someone with their free speech they would be penalised with a very large fine (apparently of €12,000).  This cannot be fair!

The repercussions could be serious, it could lead to blocking criticism of pretty much everything, Nadine Dorris, for example, may not be able to criticise Nick Clegg/The Lib Dems online because we'd be offended or visa versa. Political parties would probably end up having to carry opposing parties views whenever criticising their policy.  A person commenting on a sporting event saying a decision was wrong - well that can offend the official...  The Home Secretary could get into trouble, and I'm not lying, for talking about cats (oops - I couldn't resist)... I could come up with more ludicrous examples if I thought it wouldn't bore.  

I should clarify that the legislation as a whole appears to have some good parts however, (I'm not going to sit and read the entire thing unless someone tells me Wikipedia and myself have misinterpreted it), from the reporting it would appear that sections of it deal with the way certain things are reported in the press which then compromise trials.  I am always saying that too often future trials are open to miscarriages of justice because of how the press report on them (take the Christopher Yeates case for example).  Putting evidence in the public domain and prejudicing people towards a particular view on either the victim, defendant or circumstances should not be tolerable (I would have a blanket ban on naming any suspect until proved guilty) however in protecting people you should not be able to impede general free speech in the way Italy is doing.

The world rightly condemned the Egyptian government when they blocked social media amongst protesters - yet people were talking about doing the same here after the riots.  Restricting people's freedoms to have an opinion is wrong whether you are in Egypt, Italy or Westminster, Wikipedia should be proud of the ethical stance they have taken, I hope theirs and the Italian people's protests are successful!

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