Friday, February 19, 2010

Can we say that a parliament is bankrupt or that prostitutes populate it?

After blogging about Lessig's remarks on the US Congress, I thought about what would happen if an Italian professor were to write the same things about the Italian Parliament. Would he or she be considered to be a thinker, an intellectual, who has something to contribute to the political debate? Would he or she be asked to talk or write on major networks, magazine, and radio programs? Well (the timing could not have been more perfect) Beppe Grillo, the controversial comedian turned into political commentator (The Guardian ranked his blog at number 9 among the world's 50 most powerful blogs in the world) posted the answer to my question. And thankfully the answer is that, despite all, freedom of political speech is still alive in Italy.

Back in June of 2009, Mr. Grillo addressed the parliamentary commission in charge of constitutional reform. He was invited to present and discuss a citizen's initiative (a citizen's petition proposing a constitutional amendment) led by Mr. Grillo himself. During his talk, Mr. Grillo made the following statement with regard to how candidates were chosen to be on the ballot:
Six people selected those who were to become Member of Parliament. They chose 993 among their friends, lawyers, and, pardon my language, some prostitutes, and they got them elected.
Actually the word used for 'prostitute' was 'zoccola,' which sounds more like 'whore' or 'hoe.' 19 MPs (18 women and 1 man) pressed charges. As required by law, the prosecutor followed up on the charges and requested to a judge that he dismissed the charges. The judge agreed. In dismissing any charges against Mr. Grillo,
she ruled that:
  1. the statement could not be construed of slender or defamation directed to any specific MP;
  2. the statement could be construed as defamatory to the Parliament as a body but that the its chairman or any appointed agent did not press charges and therefore no investigations could be conducted (under Italian law, defamation can only be investigated if the victims activates the process)
Ultimately, the judge ruled that Mr. Grillo's statement was an exercise of his freedom of speech, Citizens have the right to criticize the government...even in Italy.

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