Italian P.M.'s push of new law prompts uproar

ROME– Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pushed a controversial bill through the Italian Senate restricting the use of police wiretaps and punishing media that publish leaked wiretap transcripts, prompting a collective uproar.

Left-leaning paper La Repubblica ran an all-white front page in protest on June 11, the day after the vote. Corriere Della Sera called the bill “a dark page for Italian lawmaking,” and Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox aired a black banner in protest above its SKY-TG24 news anchors.

There was no such reaction from Berlusconi’s own Mediaset network or from pubcaster RAI, over which the TV tycoon-turned-pol holds sway.

The anti-wiretapping bill, which must now clear its final hurdle in the Lower House where Berlusconi has a wide majority, requires three judges instead of one to approve wiretapping a suspect’s phone, limits the number of days for a wiretap, and requires a special authorization to listen in on pols and priests. Journos and news outlets will face fines of up to $550,000 and even jail for publishing wiretap material.

The muzzle comes despite the Italian judiciary’s use of wiretaps to fight crime, especially anti-Mafia operations.

However, leaked wiretaps to the press have also helped blow the lid on scandals including Berlusconi’s sexual escapades.

Berlusconi’s senate whip Maurizio Gasparri has defended the bill by saying it puts an end to “trial by the media.”

The first consequence of the crackdown is a gag on documentary “La Dama e il cavaliere” (The Lady and the Knight) about Berlusconi’s love life, which uses several taped conversations, including a recording made by a call girl who spent the night in Berlusconi’s Rome residence. Berlusconi has denied allegations that he paid for sex.

“We are running against the clock,” says helmer and investigative journo Franco Fracassi who, after rushing to finish his edit, has started screening the docu, which does not have distribution, in leftist political venues and selling it on the Internet.

“Once the law is passed I will have to stop, or I could get arrested,” he laments.

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