Rating agencies cleared in Italian manipulation trial

Top managers at the financial rating agencies Standard and Poor's and Fitch were acquitted on Thursday of market manipulation charges brought after they cut Italy's credit ratings in 2011 and 2012.

Rating agencies cleared in Italian manipulation trial
Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

A court in the southern Italian city of Trani cleared former S&P president Deven Sharma as well as four employees at the US agency after the prosecution had called for prison sentences of up to three years.

Fitch's head of operations David Michael Willmoth Riley, who risked nine months in prison, was also acquitted.

The two ratings agencies, whose probe the creditworthiness of borrowers, themselves came under the spotlight when they cut their ratings on Italy's sovereign debt, citing instability of the Berlusconi government of the day, and slow implementation of an austerity programme.

S&P lowered its rating by two notches in January 2012 to BBB+, having already cut it the previous September. The same month, Fitch also lowered its rating for Italy.

Trani prosecutor Michele Ruggiero argued that both agencies had violated European rating rules as well as rules of “fairness and transparency”.

S&P, Ruggiero said, “deliberately provided financial markets with biased and inaccurate information concerning Italy's borrowing capacity”.

The agency's decision to add a negative outlook to its notation as early as May 2011 went against official data given by the Italian government, he added.

He levelled similar charges at Fitch, adding that the agency's downgrade came during market opening hours when it was liable to provoke a substantial price reaction.

Several Italian consumer associations had come forward as plaintiffs.

S&P had rejected the charges as “completely unfounded”.


French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts

A French court has ordered Twitter to give activists full access to all its documents relating to efforts to combat racism, sexism and other forms of hate speech on the social network.

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts
Photo: Alastair Pike | AFP

Six anti-discrimination groups had taken Twitter to court in France last year, accusing the US social media giant of “long-term and persistent” failures in blocking hateful comments from the site.

The Paris court ordered Twitter to grant the campaign groups full access to all documents relating to the company’s efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applies to Twitter’s global operation, not just France.

Twitter must hand over “all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents” detailing the resources it has assigned to fighting homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as “condoning crimes against humanity”.

The San Francisco-based company was given two months to comply with the ruling, which also said it must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

The ruling was welcomed by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), one of the groups that had taken the social media giant to court.

“Twitter will finally have to take responsibility, stop equivocating and put ethics before profit and international expansion,” the UEJF said in a statement on its website.

Twitter’s hateful conduct policy bans users from promoting violence, or threatening or attacking people based on their race, religion, gender identity or disability, among other forms of discrimination.

Like other social media businesses it allows users to report posts they believe are hateful, and employs moderators to vet the content.

But anti-discrimination groups have long complained that holes in the policy allow hateful comments to stay online in many cases.

French prosecutors on Tuesday said they have opened an investigation into a wave of racist comments posted on Twitter aimed at members of the country’s national football team.

The comments, notably targeting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, were posted after France was eliminated from the Euro 2020 tournament last week.

France has also been having a wider public debate over how to balance the right to free speech with preventing hate speech, in the wake of the controversial case of a teenager known as Mila.

The 18-year-old sparked a furore last year when her videos, criticising Islam in vulgar terms, went viral on social media.

Thirteen people are on trial accused of subjecting her to such vicious harassment that she was forced to leave school and was placed under police protection.

While President Emmanuel Macron is among those who have defended her right to blaspheme, left-wing critics say her original remarks amounted to hate speech against Muslims.