ITALY
Written by Hannah Schädlich

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Profile

  • Area: 301,277 square kilometres
  • Population: approx. 60 Mio.
  • Capital: Rome
  • State form: republic, parliamentary democracy
  • Official language: Italian
  • Religion: predominant Roman Catholic

  • Flag of Italy

    Analysis
    Abstract
    Hallin and Mancini (2005) ranged Italy in the so-called Polarised Pluralist Model, which also contains other Southern European countries like Spain and Greece. This model is mainly characterised by a press that derives less from the market but from literature and politics. “This path of development produced a media system characterized by a lower-circulation, elite-oriented press, a lower level of professionalization of journalism, a high degree of political parallelism and strong involvement of the state in the media sector” (p. 219). Italy’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression as well as media freedom. Nevertheless, journalists can’t work autonomously as the media depend on both the economic situation and the political orientation of their owners. Furthermore, there are a couple of media laws that contain regulations regarding licensing and content. Apart from that, especially the financial crisis and its economic consequences influence the market. A peculiarity of the Italian media system is the duopoly of the broadcasting sector. In this regard Silvio Berlusconi plays a big role. With Mediaset and his economic and partial political impact on newspapers and radio stations he is nearly omnipresent. During his era as prime minister, the conflict between being a politician and ruling RAI and Mediaset had a sustainable effect on Italy. So Italy somehow is a unique case in Europe because of its “combination of political power and media conglomerates” (Ragnedda, 2014: 14). Nevertheless, the intense state efforts to influence the media and the close relationships of media-owners and politics are comparable to France and reason Italy’s assignment to Cartelism in our Typology.
    Communication policy and regulations
    Regarding media regulations and freedom of expression, the constitution of the country plays an important role. In its first part, the Italian constitution regulates the rights and duties of the citizens. Article 21 guarantees freedom of expression by saying that “anyone has the right to freely express their thoughts in speech, writing, or any other form of communication.” Furthermore, this article is related to the press by establishing that “the press may not be subjected to any authorisation or censorship”. However, there are also some specifications about censorship or other state interventions. An appendix, for example, allows confiscations of publications by the criminal police. Consequently, the Italian constitution provides a first framework for freedom of the press. This freedom is also respected because Italy signed the major international agreements regarding freedom of opinion, like the European Convention on Human Rights with Article 10 regulating freedom of expression (Freedom House, 2015a). Because there is neither an agreement between journalists about quality standards nor a codex, committees of self-regulation don’t exist in Italy. That’s why regulations are external and put through by the government (Prinzing, 2016: 209).

    Until the 1970s, television was reserved for the government. Even though private broadcasters emerged then, regulations through the state didn’t exist until the 1990s. A media bill (Mammì Law) of 1990 determined that private broadcasters were allowed to transmit their programmes live and nationwide, and gave the legal framework for commercial television. Furthermore, it regulated advertising duration and some conditions about the content like the duty of private broadcasters to offer news programmes (Mazzoleni, 2004: 134). Before, there were no regulations about licensing or broadcasting frequencies. During this time, media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi gained control over several media offers, which will be described later on. The original purpose of this law was more pluralism in the media market with a diversity of free competitors. Nevertheless, because of his numerous political relationships, Berlusconi managed to get licences for his three TV channels and integrated them as Mediaset into his group Fininvest (Prinzing, 2016: 209). Therefore, even if licensing was regulated now, nothing changed about the duopoly of Mediaset and RAI in the broadcasting sector (Padovani, 2005: 43). However, the Constitutional Court criticized this bill in 1994 because it didn’t influence Fininvest’s domination of the private television and therefore confirmed the status quo (D’Arma, 2009: 775). Consequently, the law didn’t lead to more pluralism in television.

    In 1997, the EU passed a protocol on public broadcasting, which called on the member states to determine PBS’ mission and to give subsidies only for satisfying these functions. For television providers like RAI this was kind of a problem because it received its financing both from public and commercial funding, what required specific conditions. The Macciano Law of 1997 was a try to bring Italian media in accordance with the directives of the European Union (Mazzoleni, 2004: 135). It established the new regulator Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni (AGCOM), which supervises both broadcasting and telecommunications. So, “Italy was the first member state of the EU to establish in 1997 a single regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, in response to the perceived regulatory implications of technological convergence” (D’Arma, 2009: 772-773).

    The duopoly of Mediaset and RAI doesn’t leave any room for other nationwide TV channels. Each of them reached an audience of about 45 per cent in the early 2000s. So, obviously, there is a lack of pluralism on Italian television. Furthermore, the market had to face Berlusconi controlling commercial as well as public channels. That’s why the Mammì Law and the Macciano Law were developed, to straighten up those relationships – without really changing anything. For this reason, two other media laws were elaborated in 2004. The Frattani Law was meant to be a solution for the difficult position of Berlusconi being prime minister and media owner. The Gasparri Law should solve the problem by pushing digitalisation. In the end, these laws didn’t really change the situation because they gave relatively vague instructions and would have paid off only in the distant future. Additionally, politicians weren’t willing enough to change the media market in favour of pluralism (Haraszti, 2005).

    Political parallelism and the role of Berlusconi
    Silvio Berlusconi is a central actor in the Italian media and the process of political mediatisation because during his term of office he controlled “almost all of Italian television, either directly or indirectly” (Ragnedda, 2014: 15). Privately, he owns Mediaset and therefore a couple of TV channels. Additionally, RAI and other state-owned outlets had to be counted as well. Altogether, being in office, he commanded about 90 per cent of Italy’s broadcasting (Ragnedda & Muschert, 2011: 46). Berlusconi’s election success in 1994 can’t be explained without his commercial television network, which enabled him and his party to be extremely visible for the public. By using his media skills, Berlusconi built a relationship with the audience and made them support his political strategy (Campus, 2010: 227). However, Berlusconi did not just control nearly the whole broadcasting media, he also owns “the country’s largest magazine publisher, (…) Italy’s largest advertising company, plus several local radio and television stations” (Ragnedda, 2014:15). Therefore, the media got highly instrumentalised for political purpose in the voting of 1994 and the following elections (Campus 2010: 227). Another example of the political interference in Italian media is the composition of the public television networks RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana). Its management is mostly nominated by the Parliamentary Committee for Vigilance of the RAI, which “reflects the balance of power among the political parties in parliament” (Ciaglia, 2013: 548). That’s why the decisions of the committee are influenced by its members’ political orientation. Consequently, public television is very much politicised and serves as mean of pressure.

    The power of the media leads to a neglect of general socio-cultural goals and to stronger efforts in gaining more control over the media (D’Arma, 2009: 770). Ciaglia (2013: 551) discovered another interesting relationship between government and media. A look at the profession of parliamentarians reveals that in Italy lawyers and journalists share the first position (each with 12.4 per cent). Even if many of the members quitted their employment for the position in the parliament, a few journalists still work in their primary job in parallel. Additionally, the Italian press receives financial subsidies by the state because of decreasing circulation rates, which means continuing impact and control by the state as well as by economic financiers (Mancini, 2000: 320).

    Italy in the media freedom rankings
    In the 2016 index of Reporters Without Borders, Italy was ranked 73 out of 180 countries, at the same position as in 2015, but 14 places worse than in 2014. RWB explains this with the violence against reporters and their need for police protection. Especially journalists who reveal organised crime and corruption are in danger (Reporters Without Borders, 2016a). According to Freedom House, Italy has a “partly free” press. In 2015 the score remained at 31 (with 0 as the best and 100 as the worst score). The NGO explains this score with two major reasons. First, public broadcasters are very much influenced by the political and economic environment. Second, defamation is still a criminal offense and can be punished under Article 595 of the penal code with financial penalty or imprisonment up to six years. Another problematic fact is that even discharged reporters aren’t able to receive compensation for court fees and other costs. The defamation law seems to restrict freedom of expression a lot, even though according to Freedom House “no journalists received prison sentences for defamation in 2014, and court decisions made it clear that imprisonment should be limited to exceptional circumstances” (Freedom House, 2015a). Additionally, the Committee to Protect Journalists states that politicians systematically use the law of defamation against reporters who reveal organized crime or corruption. “According to figures by press freedom group Ossigeno per l’informazione, between 2011 and 2013, more than a third of the cases brought against the Italian press came from false lawsuits or other abuses of the legal system” (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2015).
    Media offers
    Media offers
    In the 1980s the market was entered by private offers and the relationship between politics and the media became weaker. The process of commercialisation led to more competitors and the “law of the jungle” (Mancini, 2000: 319). Nowadays, the private offers dominate the broadcasting sector (Haraszti, 2005: 3). Thanks to digital television, with 37 pay channels and 88 free-to-air channels one can speak of diversity. Furthermore, there are about 140 national and local daily newspapers (Freedom House 2015a).

    The two major TV broadcasters are the public RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana) and the commercial Mediaset (part of Fininvest). RAI includes three analogue, thirteen digital and seven satellite channels. Furthermore, it provides three radio channels. In a line with digital developments, RAI and Mediaset, as well as most of the other channels, offer electronic programmes now (Casarosa, 2010). Until the beginning of the 21st century, RAI and Mediaset each reached about 45 per cent of the audience. Even if the state makes it difficult for newcomers, in 2013 Sky Italia became a third big actor on the television market by reaching a third of the audience, and thus outstripping RAI and Mediaset (each of them with about 28 per cent; Freedom House, 2015a).

    Ownership concentration is a specific characteristic of the Italian media system. The greatest extend was reached when Silvio Berlusconi controlled both RAI and Mediaset (Freedom House, 2015a; Briziarelli, 2014: 199). Generally, the state tried to restrain new technologies like TV on demand or satellite to maintain the impact of RAI and Mediaset as long as possible (Cornia, 2016: 180). Several media laws that should regulate the duopoly were passed, but nothing changed. Regarding content, Mediaset has its focus on entertainment and advertising, whereas RAI used to be more informative and political. However, to stay competitive, RAI had to modify its programme and, therefore, doesn’t have typical characteristics of public channels anymore (Prinzing, 2016: 212).

    Being state-owned and influenced by politicians, RAI doesn’t enable autonomous journalism. At least, each of the three RAI programs represents one of the political directions (right, left, and centre), which creates kind of political diversity regarding the offered content. However, this also means that to an extend the viewer numbers of each channel represent the balance of power in the parliament. Therefore, a decreasing audience often causes personnel changes in medial positions (Hoffmann, 2016), which is an example for the dependence on political influences.

    In the press sector, the ownership is concentrated, too. The three concerns Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso, RCS Mediagroup and Gruppo Mondadori own about 60 per cent of all offers (Casarosa, 2010: 9). Other publishers have market shares of about four to seven per cent (Cornia, 2016: 179). In the beginning, the press served as mouthpiece of the elite and had its target group in a high-educated readership and its focus on political topics. The major goal of the newspapers was to express political concerns of the parties. Instead of publishing objective facts, the press had and still has strong tendencies to opinion and interpretation. The upcoming of television strengthened those characteristics because simple information was the task of broadcasting now (Prinzing, 2016: 208). The target group of the press remained the same, and also the style of writing didn’t change a lot (Mazzoleni, 2004: 128).

    While the broadcasters are commercially strong, the press doesn’t have enough economic resources. For that reason, it relies on public and private subsidies. Those sponsorships are closely linked to influence of political and economic financiers (Cornia, 2016). Even if Italian newspapers serve as source of information for other media and are recognised for their exclusive material and political alignment, they aren’t highly frequented. Another problem is that the internet provides a huge range of free of charge news. Nevertheless, the newspapers try to use the web as solution for their financial problems by making it work for them. So somehow, the online situation of news offers reflects the situation in the print sector with Corriere della Sera and La Republica being the most influential news providers. Newcomers have to face the same difficulties as in the broadcasting sector, which is why the Italian press lacks diversity (Cornia, 2016). Because of the internet, news agencies like ANSA became competitors for the traditional media.

    Media usage
    Most Italians use television as primary source of information. The press and the internet are also used this way, whereas the thousands of radio stations primarily serve as provider of entertainment (Haraszti, 2005: 2; Freedom House, 2015a). However, press circulation is relatively low and the internet penetration rate is lower than in many other European countries (Cornia, 2016: 178). For example, with a circulation of about 500.000 in 2008 (Giomi, 2010) and 428.000 in 2012 (Cornia, 2016: 184), Corriere delle Sera is the major national newspaper. Nevertheless, an Italian journalist who writes for this daily, doubts the major impact of television. By contrast, pointing at the elite readership, in an interview he argued that the newspapers set the agenda and give orientation. However, the low reach leads to low interest of advertisers, small incomes and, therefore, to private subsidies. For example, the car company Fiat owns one of the major newspapers, La Strampa. Consequently, industrial groups have influence on journalistic content (Mancini, 2000: 320).

    Internet
    According to Freedom House (2015b), Italy has a “free” net. The 2015 score was 23 (with 0 as the best and 100 as the worst score). In 2014, the internet penetration rate was about 62 per cent, which is actually lower than in many other countries in Western Europe. The reasons are manifold. The financial crisis has an impact as well as the limited infrastructure and the insufficient media literacy of the older Italians. Additionally, the Italians prefer to access the internet by phone (about 60 per cent of the internet usage) instead of using a computer. Even if the government made some promises about expanding the broadband access, there were no concrete improvements up to 2015.

    An important change concerning the web was the antiterrorism law of 2015, which allows the removal of terrorist content and websites and expands the period of saving user data. There are some opponents to this law, who are afraid of broad applications. However, generally, there are no restrictions about available content and also the social networks can be used freely. Nevertheless, since 2001 there is a restriction for news websites that requires the holders to be a member of the national journalists’ association and to be registered within ROC (Communication Workers’ Registry).

    The authority responsible for cybercrime is called Guardia di Finanza and can, for example, block websites, which violated copyright. Furthermore, Italy released a Declaration of Internet Rights (about anonymity, right to internet access, data protection, etc.) that is just a guideline, but might develop into a binding law. Important, too, are the two regulators AGCOM (Authority of Communications) and Data Protection Authority (DPA). Their tasks are to regulate advertisement, protect user data and other individual rights and ensure internet access (Freedom House, 2015b).
    Journalists' autonomy
    Journalists’ education and working conditions
    Becoming a journalist in Italy is possible via learning by doing in freelance work or traineeships at national newspapers, as well as by schools of journalism or other university schools. However, if you want to get a full-time job at one of the major media operators, a license is requested. This license is issued by the Italian Journalists’ Register Ordine dei Giornalisti (ODG), which at the same time protects the profession (Kassel, 2003). To get this license, future journalists first have to work as an intern for at least one and a half year and then a qualification test – which costs about 530$ – must be passed. This is unique in Europe. “One is, in fact, allowed to take the examination only under the condition of being a ‘trainee’ in a newsroom, that is, after been chosen and selected by the gatekeepers of the news organization” (Buonanno, 2004: 71). According to those circumstances, one has to know that favouritism plays a big role in the Italian economy. Without social capital and the appropriate political orientations, it is very hard to get such jobs. Nevertheless, a journalist who is employed by the leading newspaper said in an interview that because of the decreasing recruitment of young people by the press, nowadays attending the schools of journalism is the primary way to get access to the profession.

    Italy faces an economic crisis, which leads to low-paid jobs, temporary employment and the dependence of young people on their families’ capital. Sometimes they even have to continue living in their families’ households (Briziarelli, 2011: 11). An Italian journalist who writes for Corriere della Sera confirms this problem for the media sector by saying that many young journalists earn just about 700€, which is not enough for a living and makes their life very uncertain. The low payment often reduces enthusiasm and, therefore, journalistic standards.

    However, there is even more economic pressure in the press sector as a German expert said in an email contact. The newspapers are facing production pressure because of selling fewer copies and simultaneously increasing costs. News have to be more and more up-to-date, which causes hasty researches. Furthermore, the waiver of correctors is another reason for falling quality and credibility. This might be one explanation for the bad reputation of journalists that a Corriere journalist said in an interview. Most Italians neither know the important journalists nor do they trust them in general. In this regard, it seems a bit contradictory that the journalist further on describes society’s need for explanation and advice. Somehow, people seem to trust journalists still more than politicians or academics. This perception fits his self-conception. As the main task of journalists he sees “connecting dots” and giving people an orientation in the vast flood of events and information.

    In the era of the internet and start-up media companies the term ‘citizen journalism’ was invented. It describes the difference between professional and amateur journalists. Those do-it-yourself reporters without solid education are often criticised by professional journalists because they wouldn’t have the capabilities and working conditions, which are needed for quality journalism. For example, they complain about the lack of editorial framework and techniques, or journalistic standards and the weak reliability regarding amateur reporters (Örnebring, 2013). Another fact about the Italian journalistic sector is that even if the number of women working in this profession increases they are still the minority (Buonanno, 2004). Therefore, equal opportunities aren’t really guaranteed. Additionally, a German journalist and correspondent for Italy said in an interview that the image of women, especially in broadcasting, has changed since the era of Berlusconi. For example, the visual appearance of female TV hosts plays a big role and cosmetic surgery is not uncommon. In some cases, it can be assumed that aesthetics are even more important than journalistic abilities. That’s one reason why the media have lost credibility through the influence of Berlusconi.

    Censorship and interference in freedom of expression
    Even if the Constitution guarantees that there is no censorship, there are some circumstances that limit journalists’ autonomy. First, because of missing committees for self-regulation, the media are very much influenced by external regulations of the legislative (Prinzing, 2016: 209). Especially the defamation law restricts the profession. In Italy, there are harsher penalties for defaming public officials than in many other European countries. Apart of high financial penalties, journalists can be put in jail for more than six years (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2015).

    Second, the strong ties between politics and the media, the public and private subsidies and sponsorships, as well as the widely spread favouritism in the economy lead to indirect censorship and self-censorship (Ragnedda, 2014: 22). If reporters depend on their relationships to get good jobs, it is harder for them to be critical or to write about taboos. For example, because of his economic and political influence Silvio Berlusconi can still weaken opposition media by asking the main advertisers to boycott them. Additionally, he profits from self-censorship of reporters who are afraid to lose their employment if they are critical about him and his partisans. Self-censorship gets even encouraged by nepotism and partisanship, which has a strong impact on the Italian economy. Finally, Ragnedda (2014: 17) states that Berlusconi established a new way of censorship. This censorship consists of trivialisation and hiding news, which are unpleasant for the government and its interests. Because Berlusconi controls so many TV channels and news broadcasters he can also influence news diversity and media content. For example, he is able to hide taboo subjects or downplay inconvenient news via trivialisation. According to Mancini (2000: 320), the recess of complex themes and the tendencies to gossip are specific for the Italian press.

    Since Matteo Renzi holds the office of the prime minister, those forms of censorship enhanced. His goal was a successful propaganda for the referendum on a new constitution in autumn 2016. Therefore, Renzi and the government systematically removed critical journalists from their positions. Especially, in the major broadcasting and radio stations of RAI personnel changes were arranged. This is especially dangerous because television still has a major impact on shaping public opinion (Hoffmann, 2016). Furthermore, RAI’s financing isn’t secure. Italy has very low license fees but still many Italians don’t pay them. For that reason, the public broadcaster depends on state subsidies and advertising, which makes it much more easy for politicians to influence its agenda (D’Arma, 2015: 32). Such forms of censorship restrict the freedom of individual reporters and are able to make whole media companies follow the official line. Furthermore, under such conditions it is very difficult for future journalists to develop critical attitudes.

    Another interesting point about censorship is the limited opportunity to report about the Vatican. As a German correspondent for Italy explains in an interview, broadcasters depend on the signal they get from RAI and the channel of the Vatican. That means that there is just one signal, which every broadcaster in the world has to use for the coverage of the Pope. The possibilities to generate own visual material and report about church events in an individual way are very limited. Furthermore, there are very few journalists who try to uncover inconvenient facts about the Vatican. For that reason, investigative journalism about the Catholic Church is very seldom.

    Journalists under protection
    According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (2014), Italian reporters who revealed corruption and organized crime are often attacked with physical aggressions (more than 350 cases in 2013). Some of them have to ask for police protection or live in exile. For example, Reporters Without Borders (2016b) lists Lirio Abbate in their table of information heroes because as an expert on organized crime he wrote two books about the connections of the Mafia and politicians. Since then, he receives threats on his life and therefore lives with his wife under permanent protection by the police. Additionally, the independent newspaper La Stampa was offended with detonators for two times because of its critical topics, in 2013 (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2014).
    Sources
    Interviewed experts (remote via Skype, email)
    • Beppe, S., journalist and columnist for Corriere delle Sera, writer, teaching at Milan’s School of Journalism, moderator for RAI 3, published several books about Italy (August 17, 2016)
    • Dietmar P., former correspondent for Italian culture at Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, freelance writer, publishes articles in various German newspapers (Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung), published several books about Italy (August 14, 2016)
    • Ellen, T., German journalist and correspondent for German public broadcasters in Rome (September 19, 2016)
    References
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    Related Links
    Recommended citation form
    Hannah Schädlich: Italy. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. http://mappingmediafreedom.de/italy (access date).

    Italian kiosk in Florence