Italy: Bloggers, Internet, and the Government

Free Blogger

There are diverse and sundry initiatives happening across the English-speaking Internet with the help of blogs. Blog Action Day, various BlogCatalog appeals, Amnesty International… Add to this the rise of Social Media and Networking, which we have only recently witnessed in Manchester. Somewhere in the States the use of these social tools is even wider than in Britain, although there is a still a proportion of people who don’t know what a blog is or don’t have access to the Internet.

Well, if England can be considered the northern pinnacle of Europe, then Italy must be its southern counterpart, and as far as blogging and Internet are concerned, things could hardly be any more different. Beppe Grillo, a well-known Italian actor, comedian, activist, and a prolific blogger, has been closely following the Levi/Prodi law, renamed into Levi/Veltroni, thanks to the new clauses, and labelled the “blogger-killer“. According to the law, every blog is considered a publishing product and as such is the subject to the regulations relating to the crimes via the printed word; if the blog publishes Google AdSense or banners, the publisher may be taxed by the Tax Collecting Agency; and the publisher is required to register with the ROC (Registro degli Operatori di Comunicazioni), otherwise he or she will be considered a clandestine publisher and liable to financial sanctions and up to 2 years in prison.

As opposed to the state of things currently in Italy, Beppe much admires the success of Barack Obama’s campaign which has potently shown the power of the Internet. In the face of the States’ progress, “Italy has suddenly got old“. One of the comments on his blog regarding the “blogger-killer” law has also remarked:

All the contrary, the British have a saying which is very fitting: ” The silence was defeaning “. It has a LOT OF relevance to them [the Italian Government – JD], and to their many financial friends and accomplices, exactly because the internet makes it possible for millions of people to find out the truth, and what is really happening, in spite of all their efforts to lobotomise people through the regime controlled media, so that they will never find out what really happens, and the real why, and so, it must be stopped, or censored, at all costs“.

What is perhaps the most surprising is that Italy isn’t at all Internet-savvy. “The Internet is what first announced Obama’s victory. 3,000 Italian towns out of about 8,000 are without ADSL. Worse than in Africa, but with the antiquated digital terrestrial“. I would perhaps argue with Beppe on this, because 3,000 out of 8,000 is actually not too bad, however… “The Country has been struck by a bad case of digital divide. Two different groupings have formed. One gets its information on the Net, while other gets its disinformation via the newspapers and the television“. Again, let’s not forget that the Internet can get one their fair share of misinformation, but at the same time the number of occasions when an average Internet user has orchestrated a significant change in the world of Media and Advertising is also well-known and impressive. Unfortunately, the digital divide illuminates the societal and educational divide, and this is much more difficult to tackle.

With the imminent drastic change (if not demise) of the traditional media – which in Italy are state-controlled – the attempt is being made by the Government to extend its control over what is currently not under the control, and this is the Internet. There are many questions to be raised (i.e. what about Social Media, podcasts and videoblogs? or does an Italian publisher need to register a .com domain with the ROC?), but this is perhaps a more problematic issue. The future of advertising and its revenue – and Beppe has already pinned this down – is at stake, and this is precisely what we see tackled in the infamous Levi/Veltroni law. Apart from all concerns about the freedom of speech which Levi/Veltroni will most certainly curtail, the fiscal nature of this law is also quite obvious.

However… The case of Italian sector of blogosphere rises an interesting problem. In the English-speaking world, bloggers are indeed the independent publishers. Sometimes they use their websites to earn money. Sometimes the websites are used to raise money. If so, is the repetition of the Italian case in Britain or America completely out of question?

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