News items stored in newspapers’ historical online archives are to be considered incomplete in that they do not report additional developments of the facts, and therefore must be updated. Thus, with this motivation, the Italian Supreme Court imposes the obligation for publishers to update their online news archives.
In judgment no. 5525 of the Third Civil Division, the Italian Supreme Court has ruled that online newspapers will in future be under the obligation to equip their archives with “an appropriate system designed to provide information (in the body of the text or in the margin) on whether there exists a follow-up or any development to news items and if so what the content is[…] allowing users swift and easy access to the updated information”.
The case before the Court concerns the news about the criminal involvement of a politician from Lombardy in the north of Italy. The man had been arrested in 1993 on charges of corruption, but was subsequently acquitted. The news of his arrest, however, still appears among search engine results because of one article in the online news archive of the Italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera”.
The man had appealed firstly to the Italian Data Protection Commissioner and subsequently to the Court of Milan requesting the removal of the judicial data relating to him and complaining of the lack of any update to the archived news item reporting on the favorable outcome to the issue. As an alternative he asked for an update linked to the news item or the transfer of the item itself to a part of the site not indexed by search engines. However, neither the Commissioner nor the Court accepted his requests.
The Italian Supreme Court, however, has accepted the claimant’s grounds.
While establishing that in any case there were no grounds for libel as the events described in the article were true at the time of its publication, the Court acknowledged the incompleteness of the information in the light of the subsequent events.
In an attempt to balance the requirements of public interest, guaranteed by the freedom of the press, with the interests of the individual, protected by the right to privacy and the right to oblivion, the Court thus ruled that the archived articles must be accompanied by their relative updates.
In this way the decision aims to safeguard not only the right of the person involved in the events to protect their own personal and moral identity, but also the right of users to receive accurate and complete information. The judgment of the Supreme Court, therefore, attaches a new value to the right to oblivion (the right to be forgotten) within the very principles of the freedom of the press itself.
The Italian Supreme Court did not, however, attribute any responsibility to search engines, which in the judgment were defined as “mere intermediaries.”