While Europe is facing its toughest challenge since 1929, it seems that priorities are not the same for all countries. Instead of fighting tax evasion to heal the national economy, the Italian government decided to focus on Berlusconi's problems. Protests have spread across Italy but apparently Mr. Berlusconi knows best: privacy is what the Italians need.
Next Wednesday the Italian Parliament will debate a law that puts several limits on freedom of communication in Italy. The law, which has been proposed by the government, aims to shut bloggers up and prevent newspapers from publishing the content of tapped phone calls (read full text here).
If the law is passed, Italian bloggers will be liable to a 12,000 euro fine in case of "offensive" blog content. Bloggers will have 48 hours to modify those articles that a politician considers to be "offending". However , usually bloggers are normal citizens: differently from professional journalists, they can hardly count on financial and legal support. Thus, when facing a 12,000 fine they'll shut up and press the delete button, even if they're right.
The law also prevents newspapers from publishing transcripts of tapped phone calls. This means that if an Italian politician is recorded while talking to a Mafia boss and journalists find it out, newspapers will not permitted to publish articles about it. Of course, in case of editors who decide to publish phone taps the law provides high fines.
So, why on earth has Mr Berlusconi phone tapping on his mind, you must be asking yourselves. A responsible Prime Minister would be thinking how to get out of the financial crisis. He shouldn't even be able to sleep at night. But, as Mr Berlusconi himself said in a conversation recorded by the magistrates, he is Prime Minister in his spare time.
As the great Italian journalist Indro Montanelli said, "Berlusconi has no ideals. He's only got interests". His own interests, more precisely. Berlusconi's trials are based on phone tapping and Italian newspapers published several conversations where he talks of sex, women, money, public procurement and so on. The truth is that Berlusconi is afraid that even more legally dangerous conversations could be published in the future.
Berlusconi claimed that the magistrates didn't respect his privacy but the point is not how many girls the Italian PM slept with. The problem is that those girls are very likely to have blackmailed him (read in more detail why Bunga Bunga is a State affair). What emerged so far is that Mr Berlusconi might have exchanged public procurement and money for sex. And the Italians have the right to know it.
That's why Italian bloggers and journalists are organizing massive protests across the country. They know that this law is very likely to pass because the Democratic Party, the Italian main opposition party, will not do its job, as usual. In 2007 Romano Prodi's center-left government tried to pass a law on phone tapping that was even stricter than the one proposed by Berlusconi's government, as the Italian journalist Marco Travaglio explained.
I can hardly find a reason why the Italians should smile. But, after all, there is one. The funny thing is that Berlusconi's phone has never been tapped, despite all his claims. The only phones that were tapped were the prostitutes' he talked to.
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