IFJ Warns Europe of Dangers in New Italian Media Laws

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned draft laws on communication and media ownership in Italy. The IFJ’s regional group, the European Federation of Journalists, says the new laws threaten the European consensus on the need to regulate media concentration.

The laws have been severely criticised by press freedom and journalists’ groups since they allow a progressive cross-ownership in the private sector, the partial privatization of public broadcaster RAI and the continuation of the conflict of interest involving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his ownership of major private media.

“The endless conflict of interest surrounding the Prime Minister and the fact that the pay-TV market is already controlled by another media giant, News Corporation, mean that Italy is well on its way to becoming one of the most concentrated media markets in the world”, said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White.

Exactly one year after Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi called for guarantees of media pluralism in the country, the Chamber of Deputies adopted a law on communications on 22 July. At the same time, the Senate also adopted a law allowing media mogul Berlusconi continued ownership of media channels, provided he does not manage them himself.

“These moves do not answer the serious questions raised over media concentration in Italy”, said White. “The European Union must react to defend pluralism in Europe. The Italian presidency and the question of enlargement are two major elements that make these demands even more pressing”.

The IFJ has also produced reports on media ownership in the European union and in applicant countries showing that media concentration is increasing in a dramatic way throughout the continent, with dangerous implications for pluralism and press freedom. Last year, the European Parliament called on the Commission to draft a Green Paper on media pluralism, and the question of media concentration was raised again during the debates on the amendment of the “Television without Frontiers” directive.

The two draft laws in Italy do not guarantee pluralism, says the IFJ. A private person will be able to own several national broadcasting channels and would even be able to extend it to cross-ownership with press media after 2008. Public broadcaster RAI will be open to private capital under the control of the Ministry of Economy, with a reform of the management board as soon as February 2004, thus putting in danger the balance between the public sector and commercial television.

“Allowing a single person to own a majority of the media market is dangerous for democracy, and we all know that asking the owner to stay out of the formal management board is a useless and meaningless gesture”, said White. “We hope that these drafts will be modified in further parliamentary examinations and that Europe will open its eyes to the dangers of media concentration”.

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