Italian journalists to strike over defamation bill

ROME Thu Nov 22, 2012 1:01pm EST

ROME Nov 22 (Reuters) - Italian journalists plan to strike next week to protest against a law that would send them to jail for defamation but would let editors off with a fine, the journalists' union said on Thursday.

The Senate earlier passed an amendment to a bill that would set a maximum sentence of a year in jail for anyone convicted of defamation, while editors-in-chief and managing editors face a maximum fine of 50,000 euros ($64,400) or 20,000 euros respectively.

The measure must be approved by the Chamber of Deputies to become law. Italy has more than 20,000 full-time reporters, according to the Journalists' Guild.

Franco Siddi, secretary general of the union, said in a statement that there must be "an immediate and strong reaction by all of Italian journalism against the dark page written today at the Senate".

Debate over Italy's already severe defamation penalties was ignited in September when Alessandro Sallusti, editor-in-chief of the newspaper owned by four-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's brother, was sentenced to 14 months in prison for a libellous article printed in 2007, when he was in charge of another newspaper.

That prompted both President Giorgio Napolitano and Justice Minister Paola Severino to say they agreed that sanctions for defamation should be reduced.

But a series of scandals have hit several lawmakers, who have been openly resentful of the treatment they received in the media, prompting many Senators to support the amendment that would put reporters in prison. ($1 = 0.7761 euros) (Reporting by Steve Scherer and Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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