4 September 2009

Italian bloggers strike against government


Threatened by a proposed piece of restrictive legislation called the Alfano decree, Italian bloggers went on strike in mid-July.

 By Francesco Federico
Italy saw its first organised bloggers’ strike on 14 July. Worried bloggers feared limits on their freedom of speech, threatened by a law that the Minister of Justice proposed to the Parliament, and vowed not to blog on 14 July.

The proposed law, created by Angelino Alfano, would regulate information on the Internet in an attempt to defend the good name of people, companies and products online. As we very well know, it isn’t uncommon to find bloggers or forum users spreading false information to damage someone.

Indeed, the Internet does need to be regulated. Even in the United States, country that values individual rights in its Constitution, the debate on this matter is a hot topic. And in Italy, the main concern about the Italian Minister’s proposal is not about its goal, rather regards to the ways he suggests reaching it.

For example, the law would allow anyone feeling defamed by a blog post, forum thread or status message on Facebook to request the author rectify the post within 48 hours. If the author doesn’t comply, a 10.000 euro fine must be paid along with potential civil damages.

Let’s say you wrote a review of a new shampoo on your blog and you misquoted the price. If this law was approved, the company will be able to ask you a new blog post in which you rectify the error. And you better publish that post quickly if you want to avoid expensive consequences. So keep your BlackBerries and iPhones at arm’s reach if you’re enjoying a weekend in the country!

Such stringent behaviour in response to libel claims isn’t even required of national print newspapers in Italy, which are free to ruin a person’s reputation on the front page, and then allowed to rectify, when they do, in a short article at page 19.

Alessandro Giglioli and Guido Scorza, one of the two leading promoters of the strike, underline that this law is mainly predicated upon regulations formed shortly after WWII, during the Parliament sessions that led to Italy’s first democratic constitution. These laws proved unfit for the traditional media industry and it’s hard to see how they could be of use in such a dynamic environment as the Internet.

Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, owns three national TV channels (Canale 5, Rete 4 and Italia 1) and, as PM, controls also the state television (Rai 1, Rai 2 and Rai 3), thus leaving only one national channel out of his direct reach: La7.

In a country where television is still the prominent news source for the general public, Internet seems the only place where independent writers can express their ideas freely.

This law, promoted by Berlusconi’s minister, seems an attempt to reach also this free medium, operating a pre-emptive intimidation of bloggers and Internet users to teach them to think twice prior to post even an innocent remark.

I strongly believe that a regulation is needed, but it has do be done keeping into great consideration the intrinsic differences of the Internet in comparison to other media.

Unfortunately the bloggers’ strike went almost unnoticed by traditional media and the general public. This is not to be of any surprise considering that only 42 percent of Italians surf the web. Of the ones who do, they on average spend only two hours per week online. As I pointed out in one of my older articles, Italy is the only European country where Internet adoption decreased from 43 percent in 2007 to 42 percent in 2008.

And it is unclear if the strike at all impacted the government’s plans.

The online strike, moreover, should have been an occasion for abstention from publishing any posts on 14 July. But it was not shared in by all the top influencers. Many of them kept blogging to grow their blogs and audiences. Beyond this specific event, the Italian blogosphere appears to be a group of individual competing with each other rather that a linked group of influencers sharing a vision and willing to act together for a change.

This was previously confirmed, back in March 2008 when BlogBabel, a popular online directory which ranked the most popular blogs, had to shutdown after bloggers continuously protest, clamouring for better positions in the chart, in a indefatigable eagerness to reach the first places.

I believe this is also a clear sign that Internet culture in Italy is far from maturity. In markets where we assist to broad penetration, such as the UK, there are so many bloggers all the way down Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” that very little space is left to quarrels and “performance anxiety”.

in: EJC

Note: A brilliant film not to miss on the Italian Murdoch Prime Minister Berlusconi is 'Il Caimano' directed by Nanni Moretti.


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