Defamation remains a criminal offence in Italy (punishable with imprisonment).
Defamation (diffamazione), defined as injuring the reputation of an absent person via communication with others. It is punishable with a fine of up to €1,032 or imprisonment for up to one year (Art. 595). If the act of insult or defamation consists in the allegation of a specific fact, the potential penalty is increased to imprisonment for up to two years or a fine of €2,065. If committed by means or the press or otherwise publicly, the penalty is a fine of at least €516 or imprisonment from six months to three years. Penalties are also increased if the defamatory statement is directed at a political, administrative or judicial body or at a representative thereof or an authority constituted in college.
Finally, defamation is also considered a criminal offence under (Provisions on the Press, Defamation, Crimes Committed against the Profession and Criminal Proecdure, hereinafter “Press Law”). According to Art. 13 of the Press Law, defamation committed by the press is punishable by a fine of no less than ₤ (ITL) 10,000 (€5.16) or imprisonment from one to six years. In order for defamation to be liable under the Press Law, it must involve an accusation of fact (attribuzione di un fatto determinato).
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Provisions on the books.
According to Art. 595, par. of the Italian Criminal Code, defamation committed against a political, administrative of judicial body or a representative thereof is considered as aggravated defamation, resulting in higher penalties as compared to defamation committed against private persons.
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Provisions on the books.
Offending the honour or prestige of the President of Italy is a criminal offence under Art. 278 of the Italian Criminal Code. The punishment is imprisonment from one to five years.
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Provisions on the books.
Defamation of the Italian Republic, the legislative assembly, the government, the Constitutional Court or other cours and the armed forces is criminalised under Art. 290 of the Italian Criminal Code. The punishment is a fine of €1,000 to €5,000.
Defamation of the Italian nation is a crime under Art. 291 of the Criminal Code. The penalty is a fine of €1,000 to €5,000.
Insulting or damaging the flag or other emblem of the state is a criminal act under Art. 292 of the Criminal Code. The punishment is a fine ranging from €1,000 to €5,000, or from €5,000 to €10,000 if the act is committed at a public celebration or official ceremony. Smearing or publicly destroying or damaging the national flag or state symbol is punishable with imprisonment for up to two years.
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Provisions on the books.
The Italian Criminal Code, under Art. 299, prohibits publicly insulting the flag or emblem of a foreign state, used in accordance with Italian domestic law. The punishment is a fine of €100 to €1,000 (§299). This, however, only applies insofar as the law of the relevant foreign state provides reciprocal protection for the Italian flag under criminal law.
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
Provisions on the books.
While there is no specific criminal offence, the Italian Criminal Code explicitly provides that where there has been insult to the memory of a deceased person, or the defamed dies before bringing a suit the case can be brought by their next of kin as long as is it falls within the statute of limitation (Art. 597, par. 2).
Art. 724 of the Criminal Code makes it an administrative offence to publicly insult the dead. The punishment is a fine between €51 and €309.
Provisions on the books.
Blasphemy is an administrative offence under Art. 724 of the Italian Criminal Code. The punishment is a fine between €51 and €309.
Additionally, publicly insulting a religion by expressing contempt for those who profess it is a criminal offence under Art. 403 of the Criminal Code. The punishment is a fine ranging from €1,000 to €5,000. Higher fines (€2,000 to €6,000) apply when the offence is committed via contempt of a minister. Additionally, whoever, in a place of worship or in a public place, vilifies a religion via insulting objects of worship, may be punished with a fine ranging from €1,000 to €5,000 (Art. 404).
Art. 402 of the Criminal Code, which banned insult of state religions, was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in 2000.
Insult and defamation are prosecuted upon complaint by the offended party (Art. 597).
Statistics on Application
there is no specific civil defamation law in Italy. Civil damages are regulated by the (Codice Civile). The Italian Criminal Code states that all criminal offences require compensation in accordance with civil law. Where crimes cause pecuniary or other damage, the offender is to compensate the victim (Art. 185). The offender must also publish, at his or her own expense, a notification of the sentence, if such notification would repair any non-pecuniary damage caused by the offence (Art. 186).
Art. 10 of the Civil Code provides that where injury has been caused to a person’s dignity or reputation, the court shall, upon request, order the abuse to cease, or if not, make a provision of damages.
Arti. 2043 of the Civil Code establishes that whoever causes harm to another person, via either negligence or intent, shall be liable for damages and a claim for damages can be filed. The conditions upon which the person who was victim of defamation can obtain damages are the same as above in case of defamation via the press (the plaintiff must prove that he/she suffered a damage to his/her reputation and that the conditions for the liability exemption to apply were not met in the case).
Also relevant is (“Press Law”). Article 11 of this law states that for defamation committed by the press, the offended party may, in addition to traditional civil damages, claim additional “financial compensation” of an amount depending upon the gravity and reach of the medium.
There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation in Italian law.
Punitive damages are not common in Italy. However, the provision under Art. 12 of the Press Law, by which an offended party may request further financial compensation beyond traditional civil damages, could be as consisting of punitive damages. There are no limits specified to this type of compensation.
Media Cases and Case Law
Notable principles of case law
Defences of truth and reasonable publication
Article 21 of the Italian Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and a “right to report” for the press, which counterbalances the individual right to reputation. Therefore, the right to report amounts to justification for (otherwise) defamatory statements inasmuch as any statements are of public value, truthful, and reported “in a contained fashion”.
The Italian Constitutional Court has that the restrictions and exclusions to the defence of truth found in Article 596 of the Criminal Code do not apply “when the defence is raised in relation to an expression of freedom of expression”. The Italian courts have consistently that news reporting qualifies for the defence of “exercising a right or performance of a duty” as provided for in Article 51 of the Criminal Code.
• the social utility or relevance of the information
• the truthfulness of the information
• whether the journalist has seriously verified his or her sources
• whether the form of expression is civilised.
In general, reports have to be objectively truthful for the justification to apply, although courts have consistently the requisite of putative truthfulness (i.e. if any alleged fact was genuinely believed to be true by the journalist, after his or her having exercised a professional scrutiny of their sources) to suffice for liability to be excluded.. Corrections of mistakes (compulsory under Article 8 of Press (Law 47/1948) do not always and exclude the reporters’ liability for false and defamatory statements previously published.
The requisite of “public value” is to be as a “relevant contribution to forming the public opinion on matters of objective relevance for the citizenry” as to matters of “mere curiosity” related to private aspects of public figures’ lives.
As for the requisite of “contained presentation” of facts, “unilaterally” and “arbitrarily biased” reportings can to punishable defamation even in spite of the objective truthfulness of the reporting.
Honest opinion (fair comment)
The law does not provide these defences as such, but note that the Court of Cassation has ruled on the right to report and comment several times, and have considered how this should be balanced against the need to protect reputation and honour. In this regard, the Court has there can a right to fair comment and a right to report under certain conditions.
i. The report is in the public interest
ii. The facts described are true
iii. The ideas are expressed in courteous terms.
i. Appropriate language
ii. With respect for the rights of others.
Italian MPs enjoy immunity from defamation prosecution, however the Italian courts have consistently ruled that this protection is not automatically extended to journalists who repeat those comments. Arguing before the European Court of Human Rights in the case Belpietro v. Italy (2013), the Italian government’s position was that “the immunity granted to [the MP] does not at all effect the existence of the crime [defamation] attributed to the defendant. Indeed, this immunity does not exluce the commission of a defamatory act, it merely indicates that its author cannot be tried or punished.”
Recent examples of cases involving the media
In 2012, a court in South Tyrol journalist Orfeo Donatini and editor Tiziano Marson of the newspaper Alto Adige to four months in prison after reporting that a provincial councillor, Sven Knoll, was under police investigation for alleged connections to neo-Nazi groups. The information had already been pubilshed in the weekly magazine L’Espresso and had come from a confidential police report. The defendants had originally been acquitted, but Italy’s Court of Cassation ordered the lower court to review its ruling. The defendants were also ordered to pay Knoll €15,000 in damages.
In 2012, the Court of Cassation the conviction, and 14-month prison sentence, of Alessandro Sallusti, former editor of the magazine Libero over a column that appeared in Libero expressing outrage at a judge’s decision to grant an abortion to a 13-year-old girl. The column reportedly suggested, among other things, the use of the death penalty for the judge, the girls’ parents, and the gynaecologist. Although the column was written under an anonymous pseudonym, following Sallusti’s conviction it was revealed that the author was Renato Farina, a member of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party. The prison sentence was widely criticsed in Italy and was later commuted by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.
In 2013, a 79-year-old magazine editor, Franceso Gangemi, was to two years in prison after having been convicted for libel eight times in the last seven years. Reports stated that Gangemi failed to file a timely application seeking an alternative to imprisonment.
Also in 2013, editor Giorgio Mule and journalists Andrea Marcenaro and Riccardo Arena of a Milan-based weekly magazine Panorama were to eight months and one year in prison, respectively, in relation to a 2009 article focusing on alleged connections between the family of a Palermo state prosecutor and organised crime. The court also ordered Mule to pay €20,000 in damages to the prosecutor.
In 2009, the Court of Cassation confirmed the four-month prison sentence of editor Maurizio Belpietro after Belpietro published an article written by an Italian senator, Raffaele Iannuzzi, that was held to contain defamatory claims with respect to two prosecutors. The Court of Cassation stated that Iannuzzi’s parliamentary immunity did not extend to Belpietro, who was additionally sentenced to pay costs and damages in the amoutn of €110,000. The case was appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, which that the prison sentence amounted to a violation of Article 10, but stated that newspaper editors had a responsibility to ensure that they did not publish defamatory content, even when written by a parliamentarian.
Prior to the Sallusti case, another journalist, Gianluigi Guarino, in 2010 served 43 days in prison for criminal defamation before his pardon and subsequent release stemming from his reported accumulation of more than a dozen un-appealed convictions during his tenure as director of the Corriere di Caserta.In May 2011, a court in Chieti sentenced three Italian journalists to prison for their reports about an alleged investigation of the mayor of Sulmona by the Financial Crime Investigation Unit (Guardia di Finanza). Walter Nerone and Claudio Lattanzio, who were employed by the Il Centro newspaper, were each sentenced to one year in prison without parole, while Luigi Vicinanza, former editor-in-chief of Il Centro, received an eight-month prison sentence, also without parole. The journalists were additionally ordered to pay €12,000 in damages and cover the costs of the trial.
Recent Legal Changes
The criminal offence of insult (ingiuria) was repealed in June 2016.
Notes and Acknowledgements
Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)
The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at ipi[at]freemedia.at.
Information on Italy was last updated in January 2015.