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Italy's Government Seeks Control Over Online Videos

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Italy's Government Seeks Control Over Online Videos


Italy's Government Seeks Control Over Online Videos

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Linda Wertheimer.


And Im Renee Montagne.

Just as the Internet is becoming part of daily life in Italy, concern is rising that the government is trying to control it. The Italian government is drafting a decree that would give the state control over online video content. Critics say its an attempt by the prime minister to protect his TV empire from competition. NPRs Sylvia Poggioli from Rome.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Italians were among the first to embrace mobile phones enthusiastically. Not so with the Internet. Just finding a WiFi hotspot is very difficult. One of the few hotspots is this caf� in Rome filled with foreign expatriates with open laptops.

Christian Lingreen says his native Denmark has 100 percent WiFi coverage Italy maybe just one percent.

Mr. CHRISTIAN LINGREEN: I love Italy, but I have got to say that IT is not their cup of tea.

POGGIOLI: Nearby, sits Riikka Vanio of Finland, who has two children.

Ms. RIIKKA VANIO: In the school, it's impossible to pass any information to other parents thru Internet, because basically none of them have Internet connection at home or not even email address. So its not part of their culture yet.

POGGIOLI: Nevertheless, Italy's rightwing government is going far beyond its European partners with the decree that would require Web sites with video content to request authorization and would mandate the vetting of copyrighted videos before they're uploaded. The measures are unprecedented in the West.

The man who drafted the decree is Telecommunications Deputy Minister Paolo Romani.

Deputy Minister PAOLO ROMANI (Telecommunications): (Through translator) If YouTube uploads film clips covered by copyright or produced by a broadcaster and uses them for a commercial purpose, this means YouTube has to be treated exactly in the same manner as a broadcaster.

POGGIOLI: The regulations are also seen as a challenge to Google's YouTube and other online video sharing Web sites. Google's European public policy counsel, Marco Pancini, told the daily�La Stampa�last month, that it amounts to destroying the entire Internet system.

Since then, Pancini has met with Romani to press for changes.

Mr. MARCO PANCINI (European public policy counsel, Google): We want to be sure, that in the final (unintelligible), these rules are not applicable as to a broadcaster using YouTube only to show archive videos or a short extract from a TV show, because in this case this would make almost impossible to provide YouTube services in Italy.

POGGIOLI: The decree mandates vetting of video content thats pornographic or harmful to national security. Violators face fines of up to more than $200,000. It would create an administrative authority which will decide what can go online and what can't.

Alessandro Gilioli, a journalist and blogger for the magazine�L'Espresso, says with the decree, censorship will be exercised through red tape.

Mr. ALESSANDRO GILIOLI (Journalist): The way Italian government strangles the Web is through bureaucracy, not like in China - through, bureaucracy, permissions, bureaucratic obstructions.

POGGIOLI: Critics of the decree see it as another example of Silvio Berlusconi's conflict of interest. He directly or indirectly controls nearly the entire Italian television system. And his TV company, Mediaset, is planning to enter Internet TV.

Mediaset is already suing Google for nearly $800 million dollars in damages for uploaded clips of its version of the�Big Brother�reality show.

In addition, the Internet has become a prime means of communication for Italians disaffected with Berlusconi. Last December, hundreds of thousands of protestors rallied against him in Rome. The demonstration was organized exclusively through the Web. The next Web-organized rally will take place this weekend outside the U.S. embassy. The slogan will be: President Obama, please help the Internet in Italy.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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