Silvio Berlusconi’s attack on a free press belongs to the Mussolini age
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A great number of people working in the Italian judiciary behave incorrectly. Convinced that they will never secure convictions of the rich and powerful, they habitually leak their entire investigations to newspapers, so at least to hang their subjects in the court of public opinion. It is a shameful way to ride over due process, no matter how much it may seem justified.
So I have some sympathy with Silvio Berlusconi’s attempts significantly to tighten up the rules on judicial surveillance, wiretaps and leaks, even if it once again looks like the Italian prime minister is putting the machinery of state to use in the service of protecting his personal interests.
But – and it’s a big but – Berlusconi’s attack on the journalists who print transcripts of telephone conversations or other such information from judicial sources is completely indefensible. By all means toughen penalties for leaking, but journalists in a free press operating in a post-Enlightenment Western world have a duty to inform. They have a duty to print what they come across, and to bring facts to light that are in the public interest. La Repubblica, Italy’s main Left-leaning daily and habitual foe of Berlusconi, has taken to pasting notes on its pages saying that under the new law certain stories would not appear. Its front page today (in the top left of the internet home page) is a blank and eloquent protest.
Benito Mussolini loved press censorship. He used to herd newspapers into the same buildings, the better to control what information came out. Berlusconi’s instincts seem authoritarian, not democratic. In fact he was recently bemoaning his apparent powerlessness and sympathising with a similar Mussolini complaint. It’s that sort of behaviour that scares me rigid, and reinforces the very ugly stench coming off this new legislation.
Adrian Michaels is Group Foreign Editor at the Telegraph Media Group. You can write to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @adrianmichaels on Twitter.