Italy | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Italy

Italy

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Free

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

29

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

10

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

9

Freedoms of speech and of the press are constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice in Italy, despite ongoing concerns regarding concentration of media ownership. The 2004 Gasparri Law on Broadcasting, which introduced a number of reforms (including preparations for the switch from analog to digital broadcasting), was heavily criticized for providing measures that served then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s interests and enabled him to maintain his control of the private media market. Libel cases continued to burden Italian journalists throughout 2007. In fact, two separate suits were filed by prominent politicians. Deputy Prime Minister Francesco Rutelli sued the private weekly L’Espresso for alleging that he used official travel for personal reasons. Separately, parliamentarian Ferdinando Adornato sued Il Giornale over a story that criticized an apartment he purchased from a government agency as an example of excessive government privileges.

In January, the government approved new antiracism legislation that criminalizes Holocaust denial and other forms of hate incitement with potential prison terms of up to four years. In October, officials confiscated wine bottles with images of Adolf Hitler on the labels under this new law. Separately, in June, the Chamber of Deputies overwhelmingly passed a bill on telephone tapping. If it passes the Senate, the law will threaten freedom of information by permitting the destruction of a wiretap recording once the legal case it pertains to has been closed. The law would also allow the state to fine or imprison journalists who publish any of these recordings once an investigation is over. In December, the home of Giuseppe D’Avanzo, a journalist for the daily La Repubblica, was searched in response to an article he wrote about alleged efforts by Berlusconi to corrupt Italian senators. The story argued that Berlusconi promised a position in his government to an opposition senator if he helped the former prime minister undermine the government of Romano Prodi. Physical attacks against journalists in Italy are rare, although they do face some intimidation and threats from organized crime groups, particularly in the south.

Under the former Berlusconi government, the country suffered from an unusually high concentration of media ownership by European standards. Through his private holdings and political power over state television networks in his role as prime minister, Berlusconi controlled 90 percent of the country’s broadcast media during his 2001–06 premiership. With the 2006 election of Prodi, overt government interference regarding media content had diminished by 2007, but much of the private broadcast sector remains in the hands of the Berlusconi family. Concentration continues to be an issue, with the state-owned RAI and Berlusconi’s Mediaset controlling 87.5 percent of the market share. Nonetheless, a February 2006 Council of Europe report argued that despite the concentration of broadcast media ownership in Italy, there is considerable diversity of content in the country’s news and other media. Print media, led by several national newspapers (two of which are controlled by the Berlusconi family), continue to provide diverse political opinions, including those that are critical of the government.

The government generally does not restrict access to the internet; approximately 57 percent of the population accessed this medium in 2007. In fact, blogs have become an important source of news for many Italians. One such blog, beppegrillo.it, run by the popular Italian comedian Giuseppe Grillo, has been ranked among the 10 most visited blogs in the world and regularly receives over 1,000 comments to each post. Nonetheless, the government can block foreign-based internet sites if they contravene national law, and police regularly monitor websites for illegal child pornography. After the 2005 London bombings by Islamist extremists, Italy’s parliament approved a new antiterrorism law that requires internet cafés to obtain a government license in order to operate, legalizes internet surveillance, and obliges internet café users to show photo identification.