CILD and StraLi making strides in the defence of freedom of expression

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Freedom of expression and information is becoming worryingly more and more restricted throughout Europe. In Italy, too, the situation has reached a certain level of criticality: legal actions against journalists and civil society (SLAPP suits) are an increasingly used instrument of pressure, used to discourage scrutiny. Noting this, CILD, alongside StraLi, is progressing a project, coordinated and funded by the European Implementation Network (EIN) on freedom of expression.

EIN is an organisation that monitors the Council of Europe member states’ implementation of sentences handed down by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Approximately 300 of these judgments concern the violation of the right to freedom of speech, and about 50% are still pending implementation by the relevant member states.

Across Europe, a number of organisations are therefore working to ensure that states comply with the decisions of the ECtHR and work towards fewer violations in the first place. 

In Italy, at present, the focus of CILD and StraLi is on two judgments in particular – Ricci v. Italy and Associazione Politica Nazionale Lista Marco Pannella v. Italy. The former concerned the protection of press freedom against the use of prison sentences in cases of unlawful disclosure of confidential information. 

In that case, Antonio Ricci, director and creator of the satirical programme ‘Striscia la notizia’ had obtained recorded images of a RAI television programme, which had never been aired, in which two people had been called knowing that they were going to fight each other. In airing the report, the intention was to show how quarrels were often also a strategy for ratings. However, one of the two people filmed in the report had not authorised the transmission of the images and consequently sued Ricci, who was also sentenced to a prison term (although never actually served). Hence his appeal to the ECtHR, which ruled that the prison sentence was manifestly disproportionate for the severity of the violation concerned, taking into account the ‘little’ relevance of the content of the information disclosed, condemning Italy under violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The latter case concerned pluralism of information, in particular a case concerning public service broadcasting. The appeal to the ECtHR had been lodged because, according to the plaintiff, the issues that the National Political Association Lista Marco Pannella was advancing in the most important information programmes and on public TV had not been given due coverage. 

The case had seen the involvement of AgCom (the Communications Guarantee Authority), which had twice dismissed the proceedings initiated by the Association, considering that there was no infringement on the part of RAI as their view was that coverage given was sufficient to allow the Association to disseminate its initiatives. However, the ECtHR took a different view, condemning Italy under Article 10 of the ECHR and declaring, amongst other statements, that there can be no democracy without television pluralism. 

Precisely with regard to these judgments of the ECtHR, CILD and StraLi are drafting two communications pursuant to art. 9 para. 2 of the “Regulations of the Committee of Ministers for the Supervision of the Execution of Judgements and Terms of Friendly Settlements” on the current state of implementation of the aforementioned decisions by the competent Italian authorities to be submitted to the Committee of Ministers, thus bringing to the attention of the Council of Europe the failure of Italy to comply with the principles and relevant judgments of the ECtHR. 

CILD and StraLi intend to acknowledge the issues still open with respect to the two judgments and how freedom of expression and information and pluralism is and has been compromised.

In order to discuss the issue, a round table was organised in Rome on 8 May, in which a number of qualified stakeholders participated together with CILD and Strali: Ossigeno per l’Informazione, Ordine dei Giornalisti, Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa, The Good Lobby Italia, Article 19, Greenpeace, and ReCommon.