Country report: Italy

(September 2014)

Introduction

The implementation of the MPM2014 for Italy shows a medium/high risk for media pluralism in the country. Of 34 indicators, 30% (10) show high, 61% (20) medium and 9% (3) low risk. One indicator was not scored, due to lack of data.

FusionCharts XT will load here!

Graph 15: Average level of risk for each type of indicator – Italy

 

Legal Type of Indicators Assessing Risks to Media Pluralism

The legal indicators for Italy show a medium/high risk for media pluralism in the country.

Low risk was identified only in the basic first legal indicator on regulatory safeguards for freedom of expression, which recaps the fundamentals on this right. Medium risk was identified for the indicators: Regulatory safeguards on freedom to information (2), Recognition of media pluralism as intrinsic part of media freedoms and/or as policy objective of media legislation and/or regulation (3), Regulatory safeguards for journalistic profession (4), Regulatory safeguards for the independence and efficiency of the relevant national authorities’ (5), Policies and support measures for media literacy (or digital literacy, in particular) among different groups of population (6), Safeguards for access to airtime on PSM by the various cultural and social groups (7), Regulatory safeguards for minority and community media (8), Regulatory safeguards and policies for regional and local media (9), Regulatory safeguards for locally oriented and locally produced news on PSM channels and services (10), Regulatory safeguards for universal coverage of the media (11), Regulatory safeguards against high concentration of ownership and/or control in media (12), Regulatory safeguards against high degree of cross-ownership between television and other media (13), Regulatory safeguards for transparency of ownership and/or control (14), Regulatory safeguards for fair, balanced and impartial political reporting in media(15), ‘Policy measures for the impartial circulation of internet data, without regard to content, destination or source (20). High risk was identified for indicators on Regulatory safeguards against excessive ownership and/or control of mainstream media by politicians (16), on Fair, objective and transparent appointment procedures for PSM professionals and management boards (17), on Regulatory safeguards for the distribution of public interest channels on cable, DSL and/or satellite platforms (18) and Regulatory safeguards for the objective and independent allocation of (adequate, consistent and sufficient) financial resources to PSM(19).

With regard to indicator 1, freedom of expression is protected by article 21 of the Constitution, and Italy is committed to fostering it, having signed and ratified the relevant international treaties that defend human rights and freedom of expression as, for example, the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECHR, in particular, according to the case law of the Constitutional Court, works as a sub-parameter for assessing the constitutionality of a law. When it comes to assessing the limits of freedom of expression, privacy laws still enable, to a great extent, public debate on issues of public concern, and freedom of speech is generally respected for online expressions. The case law of the Superior Courts has slowly developed during the last fifteen years towards more consistent interpretations of the scope and limits of freedom of expression online.

This indicator scores low risk, notwithstanding that defamation is a criminal offence, and notwithstanding the chilling effect that this may provoke. The impact of this law is partially balanced by case law as, under specific circumstances, the application of the constitutional principle of freedom of expression prevails in the public interest over the claim of defamation.

Medium risk: indicator 2 was assessed as showing a medium risk. Article 21 of the Constitution is interpreted as covering freedom to access information and the laws in force guarantee access to acts, documents and information held by the public administrations by those who have a qualified interest. Recently, Legislative Decree 33 of 2013 made a step further in the direction of freedom of information, acknowledging that “everybody” has the right of access to documents and information of the public administrations. Nonetheless, the Italian law stresses more transparency obligations by the administration than the right to access to information. In this regard, the right to access is strictly linked to what the public administration is asked to disclose. It must be stressed therefore, that Italy still lacks of a proper freedom of information act (FOIA) according to international standards.

As regards indicator 3, media pluralism is a principle that was interpreted by the Constitutional Court as stemming from Article 21 Const., on freedom of speech. Moreover, the principle is recalled in general media regulation. Notwithstanding that media pluralism is a principle that is enshrined in laws and that is often recalled in case law, the indicator scores a medium risk, due to variable on the effectiveness in its implementation.

Indicator 4 presents medium risk, due to potentially restrictive regulation: in Italy, the journalistic profession is ‘closed’ by law (a professional journalist must be enrolled in the Albo dei Giornalisti (Register of Journalists), kept by the Ordine dei Giornalisti) (Order of Journalists).

Regulatory safeguards for the independence and efficiency of the relevant national authorities (5) exist, but they are not well implemented in practice. The score is medium, as, while the law formally foresees for the media authority appointment procedures that should guarantee transparency, should be democratic and objective and designed to minimize the risk of political or commercial interference, in practice, according to commentators and scholars, the appointment of the commissioners follows political and economic criteria.

Media and digital literacy (indicator 6) is a very broad an important topic. It was assessed that the existing policies are not tackling the problem in a systematic way.

Indicator 7 Safeguards for access to airtime on PSM by the various cultural and social groups shows a fragmentation of competencies among the bodies that regulate access to PSM.

Regulatory safeguards for minority and community media (8) are variously present in the legislation. Nonetheless, it is difficult to assess if the independence of the minority or community media is safeguarded in practice.

Indicator 9 shows that the legislation provides regulatory safeguards for local and regional media, in the light of geographical pluralism. Regional and local television and radio, for instance, are a very important part of the market in Italy, in terms of the number of operators, and the administrative and socio-political structure of the country itself, which calls for regional-level media. Policies on the development of local and regional media have become less clear in recent years. Regulatory safeguards for locally oriented and locally produced news on PSM channels and services (10), Regulatory safeguards for universal coverage of the media (11) exist, but policies and remedies to safeguard them could be improved.

Indicator 12 shows the existence of regulatory safeguards on media ownership concentration; nonetheless, the sanctioning/enforcement powers by the media authorities to impose proportionate remedies, has not been very effective. Regulatory safeguards against a high degree of cross-ownership between television and other media (13) are in place, but there are some cases where their poor implementation has been politically sensitive. In particular, the law that bans cross ownership with newspapers for those that run a national television business and get more than the 8% of the revenue of the “integrated system of communications” has been raising many criticisms in public opinion, as it is a temporary rule that every year is renewed by a governmental law-decree and because its elusion in the case of the ownership of the newspaper “Il Giornale” has been highly relevant in political terms. When it comes to Regulatory safeguards for transparency of ownership and/or control (14), it must be stressed that the Constitution itself calls for laws that can disclose the financing methods of the press. A corpus of laws that aim to disclose the structure of a media firm is in force. Nonetheless, this is not enough in terms of the disclosure of effective influence on the media. The law could provide obligations to ensure better accessibility to the data by the general public. For instance, the data available in the Register of Communication Operators, kept by AGCOM, are only partially available to the public.

Indicator 15 deals with the rules for political communication and electoral campaign. This indicator assesses the existence of regulatory safeguards for fair and objective coverage of political viewpoints, taking into consideration also electoral campaigns. Regulatory measures exist but the risk is that, when violated, the sanctions are not very effective.

Policy measures on indicator 20 Regulatory safeguards for the impartial transmission of information are nascent, and not very well defined and developed.

High risk. The regulatory safeguards against excessive ownership and/or control of mainstream media by politicians (indicator 16) scores high risk due to a lack of regulation on this area. The law on the conflict of interest can be taken into consideration to some extent, but this is a general law and it does not contain specific limitations to direct and indirect ownership/control of media by politicians, sanctioning only ‘privileged support’ of the politician by the media outlets.

As regards indicator 17, it must be noted that the composition of the Council of Administration of RAI usually reflects the political situation in the Parliament. Moreover, a representative of the government is part of it. These can be considered to be limits to the independence of PSM.

Indicator 18 scores high risk on must carry rules. This indicator aims to assess the existence and effective implementation of regulatory safeguards (in accordance with Article 31 Universal Service Directive) for access of public interest channels to cable, DSL and/or satellite platforms. There are no specific rules stemming directly from the EU Directive. Regarding the transition period from analogue to digital broadcasting, there was an obligation for the national digital operators to reserve 40% of capacity on a multiplex for independent channels. There are also rules in place for reserves of network capacity for local operators. RAI has must offer obligations.

A specific mention should be devoted to indicator 19, which was measured again after the Law Decree 66 of 2014 regarding urgent measures on competitiveness and social justice came into force. This legislative decree, in fact reduced the fee-revenue to the PSM for 2014 by 150 million euros. This indicator shows how a government’s unilateral decision, taken after no specific public debate, can break an established method of financing. This, in the logic of the MPM, can be seen as a potential threat to the independence of PSM.

 

Economic Type of Indicators Assessing Risks to Media Pluralism

Economic indicators show a risk concerning ownership concentrations, including Ownership Concentration (21), Readership/Audience Concentration (22) and Cross-Ownership Concentration Number of Sectors in which Top 8/owners are active (23). High risk is also assessed concerning the Availability and Quality of the broadband (24), which showed that broadband infrastructure, is still less accessed and slower than the EU average. The indicator assessing the Centralisation of the National Media System shows a low risk, while the lack of data on this matter has not made the implementation of the indicator assessing Minority and Community Media possible.

High risk. The high risk assessed by indicator 21 on Ownership Concentration is generated by combining the high risk that is highlighted by measuring the Ownership Concentration in the Television, Radio and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In contrast, the large numbers of newspapers have resulted in low risk in the press.

Similarly to the Ownership Concentration, indicator 22 on Readership/Audience Concentration also shows high risk in the television, radio and ISPs sectors, while a medium risk is assessed in newspapers.

Taking into consideration the revenues of the TOP 8 media outlets of the entire media sector in Italy, the market’s revenues are split as follows: TV 3,257.26m Euros, radio 461.26m Euros, newspapers 983.02m Euros, internet 1,465.78m Euros. Internet here refers to search engines (such as: Google and Yahoo), and social media (such as Facebook). These data lead to the highlighting of a high risk in cross-ownership concentration.

Indicator 24 shows a high risk due to the limited access to Broadband infrastructure, including landlines and mobile connectivity, which is below the EU average. Indicators assessing the quality of the broadband, namely, the landline broadband speed, also show high risk, given that this is lower than the EU average.

Low risk: indicator 26 is the only low risk assessed among the economic indicators. This shows a high decentralisation of media system, due to the high distribution of local media outlets. This outcome is justified by the rich presence of local newspapers, regional television and radio. Although national media outlets play a dominant role in the Italian media system, local media outlets are widely distributed.

As already mentioned, it was not possible to assess indicator 25 on Minority and Community Media, due to the lack of data.

 

Socio-political Type of Indicators Assessing Risks to Media Pluralism

The socio-political indicators generally show a medium risk for media pluralism in Italy (five of eight indicators score as ‘medium’). The exceptions are the indicator on Independence and ownership of news agencies, showing a low risk, and the indicators Presence of professional associations providing advocacy for editorial independence and respect of professional standards and ‘Political bias in the media,’ showing a high risk.

The low-risk indicator 34 Independence and ownership of news agencies is mainly based on the assessment of the market share of the leading news agency and its political affiliation. The leading news agency in Italy is Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA), although no recent data about its market share could be found to confirm this. Given that ANSA is a cooperative company consisting of 34 shareholders, it does not seem connectable to any specific political affiliation.

Medium-risk indicators focus on guarantees for universal access and coverage of media, political control in the media, and the level of independence of PSM. Indicator 27 Guarantees for universal access to media regarding special needs groups scores as medium because public service TV channels provide quite extensive measures to promote access to media content and services by special needs groups, but no relevant data could be found on the two leading private terrestrial TV channels (also part of the sample). Indicator 28 Guarantees for universal coverage of PSM and broadband networks regarding geographic coverage shows a medium risk given that one of the sub-indicators scores as medium (DSL coverage in rural areas), one sub-indicator is lacking data (public radio signal coverage), while the other two sub-indicators score as high-risk (public TV signal coverage and rural population passed by cable) as, in Italy, cable has not traditionally been developed.

Indicator 30 Political control over media and distribution networks ownership has too many sub-indicators to go into the detail of each one in this report. The sub-indicators all show low to medium risk. Generally, the data on ownership and audience shares in Italy are publicly available, even if it is not easy to find them online. However, when it comes to the political affiliation of media owners, there seem to be no official sources of data and, apart from a few very well known cases, the political affiliation of media owners is disclosed only as result of journalist investigation or press articles.

In terms of indicator 31 Political control over media funding by advertising, in Italy, there is no regulation, nor are there parameters, that establish the relationship between state advertising and audience shares. Moreover, there seem to be no relevant statistics. The Department of Information and Publishing (Dipartimento per l’informazione e l’editoria pubblica) collects quantitative information on different communication campaigns, but the data are provided only to the public entity in charge of the campaign in order to do quantitative analysis of the campaign’s impact. Hence, Variable 1 cannot be scored. Moreover, there are no rules regarding the distribution of state advertising (high risk). Given the absence of data on the first variable and the high risk of the second, this indicator could potentially score as high-risk.

The level of independence of PSM (indicator 33) shows a high risk with regard to the PSM finance mechanism. Although the relevant Ministerial Decree suggests economic considerations, in practice the level of public financing is subject to political discretion. This is evident from the fact that, in 2014, the government decided that the revenues from the license fee to RAI should be cut by EUR 150 million, suddenly and without any public discussion. The other two sub-indicators are low-risk, given that there is no direct government financing for the PSM and that the government does not decide on the wages for PSM employees.

High risk indicators: The first high-risk indicator is 32 Presence of professional associations providing advocacy for editorial independence and respect of professional standards, which shows a medium risk with regard to the sub-indicator on presence and activity of professional associations providing advocacy for editorial independence and the respect of professional standards. The reach of the Ordine dei giornalisti and the National Federation of the Italian Press (FNSI) is limited. The other variable, which evaluates the mechanisms that allow professional associations to conduct advocacy for editorial independence, shows a high risk. However, given that the key term ‘mechanisms’ is not defined (as pointed out by the respondent and three of the panel experts), the assessment leaves space for subjective interpretation. This indicator relies on expert opinion. The second high-risk indicator 29 Political bias in the media shows a high risk that is related to unbalanced representation of the different groups of political actors in the selected media sample; and a medium risk related to the one-sided portrayal of political actors in the media. However, the data here is based on a rather small sample and cannot be used to derive conclusions.

 

Charts will load here!

Graph 16: Level of risk for each risk domain – Italy