The Italian media protested on Friday against the proposed new law to curb wiretapping, with one newspaper running a blank front page. The journalists' union has called for a strike on July 9.
The law is hotly contested not only by most media but also by magistrates who say it will greatly hamper their fight against corruption and organised crime, Reuters reports.
La Repubblica newspaper ran a front page with no news but only a tiny “post-it” style yellow memo reading “The gagging law will deny citizens the right to be informed.” Readers sent in their own photos featuring post-its as a show of support for the newspaper's stance.
Corriere della Sera called it "a dark day" for justice and L'Unita, paper of the largest opposition party, ran its headline with typeface that was used when Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini ran Italy with an iron fist and controlled the media.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says the new rules are needed to protect privacy, but the opposition accuses the government of scrambling to cover up corruption with yet another tailor-made law that follows measures to shield him from prosecution while in office.
The bill had languished in parliament for months, according to Reuters. But the government quickly dusted it off after newspapers printed leaked transcripts from a high-profile graft probe into public works contracts that has tainted Berlusconi's cabinet and forced Industry Minister Claudio Scajola to resign.
Friday's newspapers dedicated much space to the past political scandals -- some directly involving Berlusconi -- that would not have come to light under the proposed new rules.
Magistrates, who are planning their own strike against the law, say many high-profile arrests, particularly of elusive Mafia fugitives, would not have been possible without the help of phone intercepts. The U.S. Justice Department has also expressed concern over the law's effect on joint investigations of organised crime.
The government says there are simply too many intercepts being sanctioned, and the penalties for leaking them are too weak.
"The magistrates are out of control," Giorgio Stracquadanio, a lower house member of parliament in Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, told the BBC. "They are launching too many probes with little or no evidence of actual criminal wrongdoing."
Under the draft law, magistrates would only be able to carry out intercepts for up to 75 days (with a short extension possible on top of that), and not the 18 months or so that some investigations now last. Publishers could face fines of up to 465,000 euros (£384,000; $563,000) for reporting the content of wiretaps, while the journalists involved would risk jail.