locking dissent out, or locking frustrations in?
Italian bloggers are striking in order to challenge a newly proposed law that would hold all bloggers financially liable for “offensive” comments in their posts, according to Global Post.
The law, dubbed the Alfano Proposal (after the Italian Minister of Justice, Angelino Alfano), would require bloggers to edit or delete any post that Government officials deemed to be inappropriate. Should the bloggers not comply they would face stiff penalties – they could be sued by any allegedly defamed citizen for as much as $18,000.
For their part, the striking bloggers maintain that in a country where the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, owns the three largest TV channels, the biggest publishing house, a major advertising agency and oversees all national public television, they require the full freedom of the press that bloggers in other countries enjoy in order to express any level of dissenting opinion.
There’s a good chance that striking bloggers – ostensibly refusing to post anything to their blogs during the strike – are exactly in keeping with the spirit of the Alfano Proposal. That is to say, the proposal ultimately aims to have the bloggers simply shut up, and by striking in reaction to it the bloggers are fulfilling the proposal’s intended goal.
However, while nobody seems particularly certain of where the convergence in media is taking us, or how we can navigate the thorny issues of defamation in cyberspace, those who believe in freedom of the press would do well to put their support behind the striking Italian bloggers.
To do so means that open communication and discussion in society is actively encouraged, and provides texture to any media palette dominated by large scale, mainstream media outlets – regardless of the country of origin.
As we stumble forward in this age of multimedia information overload, I maintain it is better to keep the gates wide open and make a few mistakes along the way (defamation and otherwise) rather than scale back and try to lock out the messiness of dissenting opinion.
By making it financially untenable for bloggers to deliver a differing opinion we do not dispel the spirit of dissent, we merely frustrate its most natural voice. But human nature dictates that this voice will find another vehicle for expression, and possibly with greater vehemence, due to earlier efforts to silence it.
And that expression can sometimes involve the sticks and stones that break our bones, rather than the names that really cannot hurt us.