OSCE media freedom representative deplores Italian criminal defamation ruling, urges law reform
VIENNA, 27 September 2012 – The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, today called on the Italian authorities to reform libel laws following an Italian high court ruling upholding the criminal conviction and 14-month prison sentence imposed on Allessandro Sallusti, former editor of the newspaper Libero.
“It is deplorable that in the 21st century people are jailed for what they write,” Mijatović said. “Civil courts are fully competent to redress grievances of people who think their reputations have been damaged.”
On 26 September, the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest tribunal, upheld a June 2011 ruling that found Sallusti guilty of criminal libel for publishing comments received from a reader regarding a judge’s decision granting a 13-year-old girl the right to have an abortion. The court concluded that Sallusti should be held liable as the reader’s identity was not revealed.
“Imposing a prison sentence for libel is disproportionate and is not compatible with democratic standards,” she said. “The European Court of Human Rights has confirmed in numerous rulings that criminal penalties for defamation inevitably have a chilling effect on the entire media community and on media freedom.”
“Decriminalization of defamation remains a priority for my Office. I call on the Italian authorities to immediately reform libel laws in order to bring the country in line with international standards and to prevent rulings which stifle free media,” Mijatović said.
In recent years Italy has convicted several journalists on criminal defamation charges. The Representative raised the cases with the authorities.