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Greece to regulate blogs

Nikos Drandakis - one of Greece's top bloggers - fears proposed amendment of law that grants people the right to press charges against media and others for slander or libel.

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The government is poised to bolster the legal framework surrounding blogs after an investigation was launched regarding the alleged blackmail of journalists by colleagues through the popular blogspot press-gr.

Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos confirmed that the justice ministry is working on amending an existing law (#1187) that grants people the right to press charges against the media, journalists, editors or the organisation itself in cases of slander or libel.

Sources at the justice ministry told the Athens News that the amendment - to be brought before parliament in March - will include non-professional, not-for-profit informative blogs and websites of "editorial products" and that they will have the same liabilities as magazines and newspapers.

According to the 2001 Treaty of Budapest, all EU members are required to update their laws regarding internet crimes.

The same sources note that the ministry is considering the following three possible additions to the law: blog administrators will have to display their personal details on the home page of the blog; authorities will have increased powers to track down bloggers who have posted libel or defamatory comments; and the National Radio and Television Council will have increased powers to intervene in instances of libel.

The government's plans have sparked outrage among bloggers, legal exerts and internet users, who believe the amendment will violate their right to freedom of speech.

"Blog spots do not need public censorship. What we need is a code of ethics, " said Thanasis Gouglas, a founding member of G700 blog.

Internet lawyer Vasilis Sotiropoulos told the Athens News that the proposed bill could violate the principle of anonymity on the internet, which is protected by the constitution.

"Anonymity can only be declassified on the internet when a serious crime takes place, according to the Greek constitution. Everyone has the right to post comments on the basis of anonymity. If the government's plans go through, there is a real danger that personal views expressed by net users will be seen as libellous and this will have unpredictable consequences," he said.

Sotiropoulos notes that the current law regulates media, and from a legal point of view one could argue that adding blogs to it is irresponsible as the law was introduced in 1981.

"At the time, the internet did not exist and digital media was completely unknown. Regulating a new medium with an obsolete law is dangerous, " he said.

Asked about the proposed blogging law, former Pasok interior minister Costas Skandalidis acknowledged that Greece's internet laws are disjointed. "The government has to ensure it gets this right and not enforce a law that will have gaps, as this, instead of solving problems, will create more, " said Skandalidis.

Nikos Drandakis, one of Greece's leading bloggers, says the proposed changes are dangerous.

"It is outrageous to treat blogs like newspapers and television stations. Should this bill go through, it will signal an era of fear for bloggers and more blog spots with anonymous allegations and comments, like press-gr, will appear," he says.

"There are over 40,000 Greek blogs and most of them are being demonised at the moment. And all this is happening because of blackmail allegations involving one blog spot. This is really unfair, considering the blogs have opened up new avenues of communication... It shows that the government is out of touch with the realities of the internet."

Greek bloggers are planning a demonstration at the parliament on March 9 to protest the proposed amendment.

Achilleas Topas reports for Athens News and appears here with

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