On 04 October 2011 all c. 800,000 Wikipedia entries in Italian were blacked out in protest at the Italian government’s proposed new media law. Here’s the English-language Wikipedia statement (which has substituted the content on all Italian-language Wikipedia entries) explaining the reasons for this unprecedented action. The International Journalism Festival has this exclusive interview with Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia. Update: on the afternoon of 06 October 2011 all Wikipedia entries in Italian were put back online. A statement by Wikipedia says that this is in response to the modifications presented in Parliament to the proposed new media law, although these modifications have yet to be approved definitively.
Chris Potter: It’s the first time Wikipedia worldwide has done anything of this kind. Why Italy now?
Jimmy Wales: The decision was taken by the Italian community in part because they felt that there was no genuine avenue for protest in the mainstream media without a bold action.
CP: Why on Twitter did you define this proposed law as idiotic?
JW: Because it is! Italy already has perfectly fine laws against defamation, and this proposed law overreaches dramatically. I have never heard of any law like it anywhere else in the world. Basically what it requires is for any website, including personal blogs, including professional newspapers, including Wikipedia, any website at all, to post a so-called “correction” from anyone who claims something wrong has been said about them. There is no requirement for judicial review, no possibility to say “no”, and the fines for failure to comply are substantial. What this would mean for Wikipedia is a requirement that we post anything written by anyone, whether it has sources or not, whether the alleged “correction” is true or not, etc.
CP: The Italian government has just announced (16.30 CET, 05 October) that it will modify the proposed law to include only large online news websites and that all others (including blogs and Wikipedia entries) will be excluded. This is widely seen as a victory for the Wikipedia campaign. The Twitter hashtag #graziewikipedia (thankswikipedia) is already up and running. A comment on this?
JW: I think it is a victory for Wikipedia, but remains a serious blow against press freedom in Italy. The law is unjust whether applied to Wikipedians or traditional newspapers. It is generally seen, and correctly I think, as a grasp by Berlusconi to force the few media outlets which he doesn’t own or control to bend to his wishes by publishing his version of the facts as a “correction” even if they know it is false.
CP: “This has been a battle for free speech in general, not just in Italy.” Do you agree?
JW: Yes. The Italian community has stood up for the fundamental human right of free expression. This affects everyone. All governments are on notice: we’re here, the citizens of the world, and you can’t silence us anymore.