Wikipedia hides Italian language edition to protest new law

The proposed law requires publishers to correct content within 48 hours, without review

Wikipedia said it was hiding the Italian edition of the online encyclopedia to protest against a proposed new rule in the country, that will require websites to publish corrections within 48 hours of content being found objectionable, without review.

"As things stand, the page you want still exists and is only hidden, but the risk is that soon we will be forced to actually delete it," Wikipedia said Tuesday in a message posted on its Italian edition.

The new rule, being debated in parliament this week, would oblige online publications to publish a correction within 48 hours of receiving a request, or risk a €12,000 (US$16,000) fine. The proposal requires websites to publish a correction of any content that an applicant deems detrimental to his/her image.

The proposed rule has already come in for criticism from a number of activists in Italy and abroad, who claim it will curb freedom of expression on the web, and in the immediate term may be used to curb adverse media coverage of the controversial Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The opponents of the proposed rule are particularly irked as the request for correction is not subject to a review. Unfortunately, the law does not require an evaluation of the claim by an impartial third judge, said Wikipedia. "The opinion of the person allegedly injured is all that is required, in order to impose such correction to any website."

Anyone who feels offended by any content published on a blog, an online newspaper and, most likely, even on Wikipedia, can directly request to publish a "corrected" version, aimed to contradict and disprove the allegedly harmful contents, "regardless of the truthfulness of the information deemed as offensive, and its sources", Wikipedia said.

The obligation to publish on its site a correction as is, without even the right to discuss and verify the claim, is an unacceptable restriction of the freedom and independence of Wikipedia, to the point of distorting the principles on which the free encyclopedia is based, it added.

Wikipedia appears to hold that its own internal reviews have handled similar issues adequately. "During all these years, the users of Wikipedia (and we want, once more, to point out that Wikipedia does not have an editorial staff) have always been available to review - and modify, if needed - any content deemed to be detrimental to anyone, without harm to the Project's neutrality and independence," it said.

Besides Italian and English versions of its statement, Wikipedia also put up versions of the statement in other languages including Spanish and French on its Italian edition. A separate petition online initiated by users of the online encyclopedia asks Italians to sign against the bill and save Wikipedia.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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