A cross-party bill in the Italian Senate proposes heavy fines and even jail time for individuals or media outlets who “undermine” democracy and publish “false, exaggerated or biased” news online and refuse to amend copy within 24 hours.
“There have always been ‘fake news’ or hoaxes, but they have never been spread at the rate we see today. Because of this, it is no longer possible to put off the debate,” said a statement prefacing the legislation, submitted by Adele Gambaro, a member of the small centrist Liberal Popular Alliance, whose initiative has the support of the bigger parties.
Ordinary ‘fake news’ reporting would merit a fine of €5,000 ($5,300), while “hate campaigns against individuals” or stories “aimed at undermining the democratic process” could result in €10,000 ($10,614) penalties. News items that would “cause alarm to the public” or “damage the public interest” will be punishable by up to one year in jail.
Traditional media outlets – newspapers and TV – would be exempt from the legislation.
“The internet has certainly expanded the boundaries of our freedom by giving us the opportunity to express ourselves on a global scale,” wrote Gambaro. “But freedom of expression cannot turn into a synonym for lack of control where control, in the information era, means correct news, for the protection of users.”
Additionally, operators of any online news outlets – including bloggers, and forum administrators – would have to apply for a license from the state to operate their website, as well as submitting their name, address, and tax data.
The proposal also calls for students to undergo special “media literacy” courses that would help them distinguish between reliable and deceptive sources of information.