Most newspapers in Italy failed to appear on Friday while television and radio newscasts remained silent as journalists and editors staged a strike to protest government legislation aimed at restricting the use by investigators of wire—tapping and other eavesdropping measures.

Il Giornale, owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s brother, and the pro—government Libero, were the only two prominent national dailies that were available at news stands.

Mr. Berlusconi’s conservative coalition says the bill is necessary to safeguard privacy, but critics, including many of Italy’s judges and prosecutors say it aims to shield politicians, including the premier who has been embroiled in a series of financial and sex scandals.

If approved, the law would curb the recording of phone conversations, an investigative technique currently used extensively in Italy.

The bill excludes mafia and terrorism investigations, but critics say that it would cripple probes into offences such as money—laundering and drug—trafficking which frequently lead investigators to organised criminals and terrorists.

Investigators seeking to listen in on a suspect would need permission from three judges. Regardless of circumstances, eavesdropping warrants would expire after 75 days, after which they must be renewed every three days.

It would also prohibit journalists publishing the transcripts obtained from such interceptions.

The media would only be able to publish a summary of the findings of an investigation after it had ended.

While such restrictions would be similar to those currently imposed on journalists in other European countries, some critics say the slowness of the Italian justice system would prevent the public from being informed of particular investigations — especially ones targeting a politician — for periods up to several years.

Last year the 73—year—old Berlusconi saw his marriage collapse after details of his private life were published, including his attendance of teen—age lingerie model’s birthday party and claims, backed by taped recordings, by a prostitute that she and other young women had visited the premier at his private residence.

The so—called “gagging law” is set to be enter the last stages of parliamentary approval later this month.

But while the conservative coalition enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament, several dissident members have voiced their reservations, including Gianfranco Fini, the co—founder of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party.

On Friday, both Il Giornale and Libero contained front—page leading articles attacking Mr. Fini for what they said was undermining the government’s stability.

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