Journalists Welcome Italian President’s Decision to Block New Law: “A Victory for Democracy and Media Pluralism”

The International Federation of Journalists and its regional group the European Federation of Journalists today welcomed the refusal by Italian President Carlo Ciampi to sign into effect a new law drafted by the Italian Parliament which critics say will increase the stranglehold of media companies owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s on Italy’s concentrated media market.

“The Italian President has struck a welcome blow for democracy and media pluralism,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary in Brussels today. “This new law is bad for journalism, bad for Italy and bad for Europe. The President is speaking for democrats everywhere when he says the government of Italy needs to think again.”

The European Federation of Journalists today issued a critical report on the new communications law – called the ‘Gasparri Law’ after the Minister who submitted it to legislators earlier this year.

The report – Crisis in Italian Media: How Poor Politics and Flawed Legislation Put Journalism Under Pressure – follows a mission to Rome last month by European journalists’ leaders and condemns the new communications law for creating a new legal framework that would give Mr Berlusconi’s Mediaset company scope to increase its dominant position in Italian media by grabbing more of the lucrative advertising market and permitting it to buy up profitable daily newspapers. Mediaset represents the three leading private television networks in Italy and already has more than 50 per cent of the broadcasting market, which it shares with the public broadcaster RAI.

“The new law, far from putting limits on media concentrations, opens the door to even stronger control of the market by Mediaset,” said Gustl Glattfelder, Chairman of the EFJ, who led the delegation to Italy to meet with legislators, media groups and journalists.

Although the EFJ notes the conflict of interest problems of Mr Berlusconi, who as Prime Minister and the country’s leading media owner is in a position to influence media, both public and private, unprecedented in a modern democracy, the report says politicians on all sides are to blame for Italy’s media crisis.

“Successive political administrations of the last 20 years have failed to carry out reforms that would ensure a framework for independent media that protects the values of independent journalism and access to information as a cornerstone of democracy” says the report.

In response to the crisis President Ciampi in July 2002 issued a stark warning on the need to take prompt action to frame a law that would safeguard pluralism of information in Italy. He said that the ‘declarations of the European Parliament and of the Council of Europe’ would have to be incorporated into national law within the year, in order to stress that freedom of expression included ‘the freedom to transmit information and ideas’. He called for a ‘systematic intervention’ to regulate the media, in order to safeguard ‘the central public service role’ provided for in the Amsterdam Treaty, whilst entrusting to the Regions the task of advancing ‘local identities and cultures’.

In response, the Berlusconi Government proposed a comprehensive reform of the communications system, which was presented to Parliament by the Minister for Communications, Maurizio Gasparri.

But the EFJ report says that the new law – pushed through after bitter in-fighting among parliamentary groups – creates a massive new economic sector which brings together all information, communication and media enterprises and then puts a limit of 20 per cent on any individual holding and which dramatically weakens existing rules, which limit media ownership.

“This is not an anti-trust law, it is kicking the door open to even greater concentration,” said Glattfelder. “Because it favours those who are already market leaders and who can use their economic muscle to move into other areas of media.”

The EFJ says that the communications law should be withdrawn and redrafted and that a new initiative should involve all sides of the media. Publishers and independent media groups as well as journalists in Italy were strongly opposed to the Gasparri law.

“This law will not work when it fails to gather anything like a consensus of support from within media,” said Aidan White. “The decision by President Ciampi to demand that Parliament thinks again is an opportunity to redraft this proposal and to bring forward a law that will command the confidence of media professionals and will restore the credibility of Italian democracy when it comes to media freedom.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries