OSCE media freedom representative concerned over prison sentences for defamation in Italy, reiterates her call to decriminalize libel
VIENNA, 27 May 2013 – The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, expressed concern today about prison sentences handed down to three journalists in Italy for libel.
“In a modern democracy no one should be imprisoned for what they write,” Mijatović said. “Civil courts are fully competent to redress grievances of people who think their reputations have been damaged.”
Journalists Andrea Marcenaro, Giorgio Mulé and Riccardo Arena were sentenced to prison by the Court of Milan on defamation charges after they published an article in the Italian weekly Panorama in 2010 about Palermo magistrate Francesco Messineo.
Criminal defamation, while previously having being considered dormant in Italy, has seen an increase in application in recent years. In September 2012, the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court, upheld a June 2011 criminal conviction of Allessandro Sallusti, editor of newspaper Libero. The case was raised by Mijatović and the verdict was later overturned by President Giorgio Napolitano.
“The European Court of Human Rights has a substantial case law confirming that imprisonment for libel is disproportionate and damaging to a democratic society. Imprisonment for defamation has a severe chilling effect that undermines the effectiveness of the media”, Mijatović said, reiterating her message delivered in a letter today to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, Emma Bonino.
“I will continue to work closely with the Italian authorities to promote decriminalization of defamation. It should be done soon to avoid further defamation charges and to stimulate active investigative reporting,” she stressed.
Mijatović also urged all other OSCE participating States with criminal libel laws to repeal them.