Letter from the slammer

Last night I attended the City Hall meeting of the town where I live. [DISCLAIMER: my wife was the mayor here about six years ago, so all my political statements – hopefully few – are biased]. I do not like the current Mayor (to put things VERY mildly) both on grounds of having beaten her purely thanks to his association with Berlusconi’s party, but also because (and I think this is not a biased view), he inherited a city generating a significant budget surplus thanks to sterling management (hell, she even cut local taxes !), and is now running a significant deficit with nothing to show for all the money he squandered.

I also dislike him for the methodical repression of any form of public political debate: he canceled the citizen’ commissions, he refused to reserve the opposition a page on the city journal, he runs the minimum number of general meetings allowed by law, managing them heavyhandedly to reduce discussion to a bare minimum: he even had the mike system in the meeting hall modified so that he can silence anyone at the touch of a button, and I could go on.

Which takes me to the reason for my attendance after a long absence: as we are a small town, even local media aren’t terribly interested in what goes on here so I thought I could use Social Media to show all citizens not attending city hall meetings (audience there never surpasses fifty people) the Mayor at work with his best arrogant rhetorical style. I therefore set up my two digital videocameras getting ready to record the full meeting and then upload it on YouTube for the enjoyment of the masses.

Unfortunately, as he walked in, he saw my rig and had the local police admonishing me not to record anything as it’s “against law”. Which is a blatant lie: Italy’s privacy law states explicitly that “Town Hall meetings are open to the public – except when held behind closed doors for special reasons, which wasn’t the case this time – and all form of recordings are permitted”.

Now, this episode would carry no association with this blog (except maybe for being THIS close to writing this post from the local prison) but for one detail: the local police kept asking me whether I was a journalist. When I replied I am a blogger they were completely flabbergasted and, not being able to figure it out, they ruled I had not the right to record.

I need to get this straight: journalists have no special rights! They serve the public opinion, and has such, they enjoy a first row seat and in some cases exclusive access for pure logistical reasons: when there are only twenty seats available for an event, obviously they should go to the media, as this will ensure maximum access for the public. It is not that journalists are allowed to see something the public is not allowed to see.

In that sense (unless there is an organisational reason) the public (and therefore bloggers) can see and record anything a journalist can.

This is not over, I promise you – I already got the appropriate laws sent for information to his Mayoral Blockheadedness and will attend the next Town Hall meetings with an ever more prominent rig. Prepare the oranges. ’tis going to be fun!

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3 thoughts on “Letter from the slammer

  1. Congrats for not taken to the slammer! i think the current mayor is of arabic origins!

    It seems that a blogger exercising a journalist practice is confusing all governments around the world! i like the Egyptian approach: put them in a cell! lock the bastards!

  2. This is an interesting post. I can assure you, if this happened in New England, Massachusetts in particular, you would have become an instant celebrity. However, in New England, most town meetings are broadcast on local community cable television so there’d probably be no public confrontation.

    Blogger vs. journalist rights will become a bigger issue over time. Newspapers are dying, yet thought patterns around the tradition roles of the press vs. “free citizens” (i.e., bloggers), will persist and limit the access that citizens have to certain governmental or other public figures and most importantly INFORMATION. Of course, journalist have no senior right to such people or data, yet those who seek to limit free access will try to take advantage of those thought patterns.

    This is a more significant issue that I believe most people realize. Another key difference between journalists and bloggers is that journalists are PAID to penetrate such barriers and thought patterns to get to their stories. Bloggers have more freedom but have to finance their own efforts. This makes barriers like the one you encountered MORE DIFFICULT to be penetrated and it makes the subtle barriers and thought patterns relatively MORE RESTRICTIVE even though the really aren’t.

    I am an ardent believer in the value of the free press, despite all of its limitations and biases brought on by economics. I worry about the future role of the journalist, realizing that blogger has certain innate advantages, but is also subject to more limitations. Society will always have a role for both, it has to figure out a new balance in a new media set, and it most certainly will.

    God bless the journalists and the social media types one and all; they all helped us get rid of Bush.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly – I am getting to realize freedom of information is perhaps for me the must fundamental and important of human rights.

      That’s why I am so pissed at my cowardice in this episode, guess I’m getting old.

      About five years ago, during our unlucky campaigning, local police came and started harassing us during a small rally and wanted to take names of all in attendance. I refused and challenged them to arrest me; once they took me to the police station, where I refused again to state my name, the commanding officer decided that there being no specific charges, for the purpose of identification his testimony was enough (as he obviously knew who I am) and I was released without the episode being put on my record, so I can’t really call myself a criminal. I even got free coffee.

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