February 28, 2010

Italy vs Google - 2 (Is it still Berlusconi's fault?)

Seattle Times editorial page editor Ryan Blethen on “the already puzzling case” of Google versus Italy (see my previous post for details):

The cynic in me wonders if Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi left fingerprints on the case. He owns nearly all of the country’s private media and as prime minister influences Italy’s public media. Berlusconi’s critics worry that he is pushing for greater control of the media by clamping down on the Internet.

In other words Mr Blethen suspects that Berlusconi put pressure on the Milan Public Prosecutor’s Office and judges in order to have the three Google execs convicted.

Well, the Good Samaritan in me wonders if Ryan Blethen needs to be taken care of, to be nurtured with good thoughts and fine feelings, and above all with accurate information, to acquire a better knowledge and understanding of what he is talking about. In fact, he seems to know very little about Italy (life, Institutions, politics, recent history, etc.). He seems to ignore that Milan prosecutors are as much in love with Silvio, and have as good an opinion of him, as the devil loves the holy water and the hanged the rope…

But then again, perhaps Mr Blethen is better informed than it seems at first glance. Perhaps the truth is that he is just doing his job, which may sometimes require some “flexibility” in dealing with facts, opinions and personal beliefs. Of course I am not saying that he is trying to “rig the game” (not at all!), because I am sure he is “an honourable man,” as well as Rachel Donadio of the New York Times and Tasha Kheiriddin of National Post are “honourable women”—if I may quote my favorite playwright.

After all, we must bear in mind that journalists and newspapers have the right to pursue and advocate their political preferences (provided they don’t claim to be “objective,” ça va sans dire…). And Mr Blethen is no exception: being a left-winger—he is “a strong supporter of all of the finest liberal causes, including gay marriage, a larger and more powerful government and ending global warming and climate change immediately,” as one of his critics wrote in a comment here—he has the right to fight the right-wing Prime minister of Italy.

In any case, nothing to do with the truth. Freely paraphrasing another of my favorite playwrights, “Right you are if you say you are.”


  1. Rob
    Check this out!!


  2. It looks to me more like- yet another go at Berlusconi. I can't imagine that he would have the time or the inclination to get involved in such a case. Especially in consideration of the fact that he himself was the prime target and victim of defamation and violation of privacy for many months. If he wanted to clean up journalism, surely he would have been more forceful in his attacks against the press who stooped so low flagrantly abusing the basic rules of the profession. It's not as though he had no case. As far as I know, Google didn't join this dirty band wagon, so why would he bother with them?

  3. Great article! The idea that Berlusconi can manipulate the prosecution service is a fanciful conspiracy theory. I’ve seen a lot of people post unsubstantiated claims of the sort you mention on Internet discussion forums; but the fact that some pretty respectable newspaper publications are now at it is a real source for concern.
    (P.S. did you know that here in the UK, Members of Parliament always address each other as “the honourable gentleman” during debates? I’m unsure whether they are adopting the same sarcasm as Mark Anthony though!)

  4. @Marc:

    Thank you! I enjoy your posts, too!

    P.S. May I ask you a question? Since you seem to be quite an expert on this kind of thing, what do you think about the Italian justice system?

  5. I wouldn’t say expert: I’m just a law student in Belfast! Anyway, I don’t doubt that the individual prosecutors and judges in Italy are excellent at their job, but the workload they face is simply immense; and I feel the Italian judicial system requires tremendous investment if it is to cope with the new demands being placed on it, particularly as regards implementing European law.

    An important thing to realise is that Italian law comes from a completely different tradition to that in the US or UK. In the US and UK (the so-called ‘common law’ jurisdictions), the reasoning of the judge is considered every bit as important as the actual verdict. Indeed, when similar facts arise, judges are generally bound to apply the same reasoning as that used in earlier cases. Reasoning is traditionally based not only by simple application of the law on the books, but also by the application of general principles (e.g. fairness and custom) to the facts of the particular case.

    It Italy (as with all ‘civil law’ jurisdiction), the role of judge has traditionally been more straightforward: he simply applies the law to the facts, without any consideration of outside principles. Arguably though, the classical differences between these two systems are eroding; and there is certainly an increasing tendency these days among Italian judges to interpret rules in light of function.

    The big problem, in my opinion, is that Italian judges do not feel they are bound by the reasoning adopted by other judges. Indeed, it is only relatively recently (late 1980s I think) that the Italians began to take the reporting of cases seriously. Prior to this there was something like a two-year gap between the verdict being made and the opinion being published. As we can see with the Google case, the system still isn’t perfect: we have to wait months to find out exactly how Judge Magi interpreted the points of law.

    And it’s not just the reporting of cases that is slow. Despite what complaints people in the US and UK have about how trials often become long drawn-out processes, that’s nothing compared to the situation it Italy. I realise you like Shakespeare, but have you ever read the novel Bleak House by England's second-greatest story-teller? He describes the time and expense associated with getting justice in 19th century England, but he could well be describing modern the court system of modern Italy. OK, I exaggerage a bit, but remember: the indictment against Google was first made by Italian prosecutors four years ago; and it is not inconceivable that Google will have to wait years to hear the result of their appeal.

  6. Very interesting, Marc. You are more expert than me on this subject, that's for sure. Thanks for your insight and for taking the time to answer my question.

    I agree with what you've said--yes, several years ago I read Dickens's great novel: I'm afraid you didn't exaggerate too much when you said, "He describes the time and expense associated with getting justice in 19th century England, but he could well be describing the court system of modern Italy."

    May God help this country...