THE GLORIOUS GOVERNMENT of the Piccolo Duce Silvio Berlusconi wants to fine bloggers and Facebook users for writing things that disagree with government lines.
Berlusconi took time away from his busy casting couch for European MPs to push through a law that will fine bloggers up to €25,000 for publishing "incorrect facts".
Such 'incorrect facts' are anything that Berlusconi disagrees with. We guess that means that bloggers will not be able to comment on his hiring of prostitutes or details of his divorce. Nor will we be able to remind anyone that he was a member of the P2 masonic lodge that was outlawed for its involvement in a right wing conspiracy. These things are true but he disagrees with mentioning them, and probably with the interpretations that people might put on them.
Berlusconi is still outrageously popular so he might get away with this law in Italy. Already the only way you can make a dent in the Italian Prime Minister's grip on power is by lobbing a model of Milan cathedral at him.
While Berlusconi tends to write off the press as run by communists, apparently reds under the bed still works in Italy, because they are all allied against his Media and Wiretapping Bill.
The proposed law extends a fairly innocent law called "obbligo di rettifica". This dates back to 1948 and requires newspapers to publish corrections to the Internet and indeed anyone "responsible for information websites" will be affected.
But it means that bloggers, commentators on websites and other online publishers will be obliged to post corrections within 48 hours of any complaint regarding their content. If authors do not comply, they face fines of up to €25,000.
European digital rights campaigners and Italian journalists warn that the move could darken much of Italian cyberspace. For small-scale bloggers, website owners and even those who comment on discussion pages, it would be nearly impossible for them to deal with a complaint within the allotted time span.
The law is worrying the European Digital Rights body EDRI, which is a coalition of online civil liberties advocacy organisations.
The law implies that bloggers must register a legal domicile with some authority, facing the same bureaucratic formalities as the written press, and that they will have to connect to the Internet every single day in order to check whether there is a request for correction.
Berlusconi's government rejected a proposal to reduce the statutory fine to €2,500.
According to the EUObserver, EDRI warned the law will discourage bloggers who will hesitate to write on economic or political issues that might bother certain personalities. Like Piccolo Duce.
There is also another sneaky thing that Piccolo Duce has clamped down on. That is the publication of transcripts of wiretap recordings.
These have a habit of turning up when a whistleblower gets miffed about government corruption suppressing inquiries.
Now journalists or editors that publish such transcripts would face fines of up to €464,700. Piccolo Duce claims that the bill protects the privacy of his mates who are the target of judicial investigations.
Berlusconi recently moaned that everyone in Italy is spied upon and that there are 150,000 telephones that are tapped and it is intolerable. This is mostly because there are a few Mafia investigations running and also those difficult political corruption cases.
Journalists here are talking about strikes if this law is passed. But since all the right wing papers are owned by Piccolo Duce such a strike will make him rich.
Reporters Without Borders has written to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, hoping that at the European member-state level some pressure might be brought to bear on Rome. µ