1 May 1998
Solidarity from Richard Barbrook and the HRC
The Hypermedia Research Centre of the University of Westminster (London, England) wishes to express its support for the defendants in the 'Lasciate che i bimbi' trial. We particularly would like to protest against the attempt to censor Internet Service Providers for distributing this text. It is not only technically impossible to stop the publication of 'Lasciate che i bimbi' in a global system such as the Net. More importantly, this case is an attack against the founding principles of republican democracy.
Since the 1789 French revolution, all democratic constitutions and declarations of rights have promised the formal right of media freedom to all citizens. Yet, they are never been able to exercise this right in practice. Instead, only those with large amounts of money and/or licences from government agencies have been allowed to communicate their ideas to the general public. However, at the end of the millenium, the Net now offers the opportunity to turn the formal promises in our constitutions and declarations of rights into reality for the first time. No longer will unpopular and heterodox opinions only be available through fanzines and other limited forms of publication. As access to this new communications system spreads, everyone will be able to publish and receive information on a global level.
Much of what will be disseminated will be frivolous, rude, childish and in bad taste. Some of it will mock institutions and ideas which most members of society believe in. However, political and legal authorities need to resist the temptation to censor such activities because important personalities are abused and mocked. Neither public or civil law should be used to prevent the expression of political opinions except in the most exceptional circumstances. In a democracy, citizens can only hold the rich and powerful to account if they can publish their own opinions and receive information from others. It appears that the prosecutors in the 'Lasciate che i bimbi' case are opposed to this basic principle of media freedom - and hence to republican democracy as well.
What makes this case particularly absurd to people outside Italy is the attempt to prevent the dissemination of the text across the Net. Far from restricting access to 'Lasciate che i bimbi', the court action is encouraging people across the world to put copies of the original Italian version and translations into various languages on their sites. In defence of our right of media freedom, Net users will aid those whose democratic rights are threatened in other countries. The HRC would be willing to publish 'Lasciate che i bimbi' on its site - although the text has been mirrored so many times as to make such a gesture redundant. Whatever the outcome of the case, the Italian courts cannot prevent people in Italy or elsewhere in getting hold of the article from the Net. More importantly, they should not do so.
We send our best wishes to the 'Lasciate che i bimbi' defendants.
Ironically, despite their self-proclaimed anti-statism, these people are defending the democratic republican right of media freedom for people in Italy, in the other countries of the European Union and across cyberspace.
Yours in solidarity,
Dr. Richard Barbrook
Hypermedia Research Centre