ROME, Sep 27 – The chief editor of Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi’s family, was charged with libel on Thursday, a day after being given 14-months in jail in a similar case.
Both cases date to when Alessandro Sallusti edited the right-wing newspaper, Libero, and have sparked a heated debate in Italy over freedom of speech.
Italy’s highest court ruled on Wednesday that the editor must do jail time for allowing the publication of an anonymous article libelling a judge in 2007, and he now faces trial for letting another similar article be published that year.
There were calls across the political spectrum on Thursday for Italy’s libel laws to be watered down, though there was less sympathy from the country’s left-wing newspapers, which said Libero had been pedalling false information.
The article which first landed Sallusti in the docks criticised those involved in a 13-year-old’s decision to have an abortion, and called for the death sentence for her parents, her gynaecologist and a court magistrate.
Though Sallusti did not write the February 2007 article, the court ruled that he was ultimately responsible for the newspapers comments, and said that Libero had not once printed corrections to the errors littering the article.
Sallusti may not actually spend time behind bars – he can ask for community work instead – but the ruling, and Thursday’s promise of another trial against him – has shocked many, with trade unions in particular voicing their concern.