Saturday October the 3rd about 300.000 citizens demonstrated in Rome in defence of freedom of information. The demonstration was launched by the National Federation of Press and other civic and political organization (like Articolo 21 , trade unions, political parties of the opposition, etc.).
Why this news should deal with debate about (e)participation? Because of at least two of very good reasons …
Firstly, Internet has been a crucial tool for this mobilization, both in the preparation and during the event. A petition online drafted by three eminent Italian jurists (Franco Cordero, Stefano Rodotà, Gustavo Zagrebelsky) has been published on the website of “la Repubblica”, one of the most important Italian newspaper. The petition has been subscribed by about 500.000 citizens (among them, six Nobel). More than 9.000 comments were posted on the website of “la Repubblica” during the demonstration and appeared on the banner of the newspaper homepage. The website made possible a constant coverage of the demonstration and enabled a virtual interaction between participants to the event and people at home. In this case a virtuous circle of online/offline public spheres worked effectively.
The president of Reporters sans frontieres declared that this is probably the widest demonstration in defence of the freedom of press in the world. Of course, the big success of the demonstration doesn’t relay only upon the Internet, but also on the organizational/relational resources mobilized. Three ingredients have been important: the high reputation of who has drafted and launched the petition and its clarity, the national relevance of the newspaper “la Repubblica”, the role of the associations of the journalists. Nevertheless, due to the very restricted spaces on the Italian televisions (included public service) given to the issue arisen by the mobilization, the relevance of the Internet can’t be underestimated. Especially considering that the political opposition to the Government is involved in a phase of internal reorganization.
The second reason of interest of this news is more general. This Italian event reminds us how much freedom of information remains the very basic requirement of democratic political participation. It is impossible to immagine real new forms of citizens involvement in the public life without taking care of the freedom and openess of the public sphere.
Next thursday the European Parliament will debate about the Italian case.