Italy | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Italy

Italy

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

35

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

13

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

13

Freedom of speech and of the press are constitutionally guaranteed. However, media freedom remained constrained in 2005 by the continued concentration of media power in the hands of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who controlled 90 percent of the country's broadcast media through his private media holdings and political power over the state television networks. In April 2004, the Senate adopted the Gasparri Law on Broadcasting, which to its credit introduced a number of reforms that will prepare the country for the planned 2006 switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting and the partial privatization of the Italian public broadcasting network, RAI. The reforms potentially make the country's broadcast media more independent of state control. However, the law has been heavily criticized for not providing effective demonopolization measures and thus doing very little to break up the "duopoly" of RAI and Mediaset in broadcasting media. This would allow Berlusconi, in his unique position, to continue his domination of private broadcast media. In July 2004, the Parliament passed the Frattini Law, which addresses the conflict of interest between the prime minister's public office and his media holdings. The law stipulates that persons holding government office cannot "occupy posts, hold office, or perform managerial tasks or any other duties in profit-making companies or other business undertakings." Although this prevents the prime minister from running his own businesses, it does not prevent him from choosing his own proxy, including a family member. However, shortly after Berlusconi's poor showing in the April 2005 elections, Finivest, the company at the apex of his business empire, reduced its stake in media giant Mediaset from 50.9 to 34.3 percent. The move, according to The Guardian, was intended to boost Berlusconi's image for elections scheduled for spring 2006.

In January 2005, a court in Rome condemned RAI for the removal of a TV journalist, Michele Santoro, in 2002. Santoro was one of three journalists critical of the government who were removed from RAI for alleged "criminal use of public television." The Parliament has still not passed a proposed bill that will abolish prison sentences for libel. In May 2005, the Milan offices of Corriere della Sera were searched following approval by the public prosecutor. Local authorities were searching for sources related to a story in the paper the same month about the use of Italian-made Beretta guns in Iraq by al-Qaeda fighters.

Most press outlets are privately owned but are often linked to political parties or run by large media conglomerates that exercise some editorial influence. The print media, which consist of several national newspapers (two of which are controlled by the Berlusconi family), continue to provide diverse political opinions, including those critical of the government. However, Berlusconi controls or influences 6 of the 14 national surface-frequency channels. Mediaset, a company in which he has a major interest and the largest private broadcaster in the country, owns three leading national channels, while RAI, traditionally subject to political pressure, controls three. Mediaset further monopolizes broadcast advertising revenues. In 2004, Mediaset received 58 percent of all advertisement revenues, while RAI received 28 percent. The other commercial nationwide networks receive less than 2 percent of revenues, and the hundreds of local/regional television stations combined receive only 9 percent. In late 2003, the government enacted a temporary waiver that removed a previous restriction on one person owning more than two national broadcasting stations, allowing Retequattro, one of three television stations owned by the Berlusconi-dominated Mediaset group, to continue terrestrial broadcasting. The government generally does not restrict access to the internet; however, the government can block foreign-based internet sites if they contravene national laws. After the London bombings in July 2005 by Islamic extremists, Italy's Parliament approved a new antiterror law that includes surveillance of the internet and requires a license to operate an internet cafe.