IFJ Letter to Romano Prodi about Public Broadcasting

Romano Prodi

President of the Commission of the European Union

Brussels, 28 January 2002

Dear Mr Prodi

The International Federation of Journalists, on behalf of Public Broadcasting for All, the international campaign for the defence of public broadcasting, wishes to register our concern over the continuation of an unacceptable and intolerable conflict of interest in Italy involving the country’s Prime Minister, Mr Silvio Berlusconi.

Last year Mr Berlusconi’s party and coalition was elected in Italian elections, which were in every way in line with international standards of democracy. However, at the time there was deep international concern, expressed by the international press freedom community, over the continued ownership by Mr Berlusconi of a significant share of the audiovisual and television market. His company Mediaset dominates the private sector.

The IFJ noted in a press release on 14 May 2001 that an independent survey of election coverage showed that while the Italian public broadcaster, RAI, gave the two leading parties and their candidates roughly equal coverage, Berlusconi's three private television channels gave him four times more exposure than his rival.

His election puts him in a position to exercise a controlling political influence over plan for the future of public broadcasting in Italy. Given his company’s overwhelming commercial interest in and control of the private television market this represents a dangerous conflict that can compromise the democratic process. The perception of undue political influence and control over the whole of television in a single member state of the European Union runs counter to the principles and policies of modern democracy which require that the administration of media is independent and professional.

Despite public promises to resolve this problem, the conflict of interest between the Italian Prime Minister and his holdings in mass media remains.

Mr Berlusconi has made several declarations stating that conflicts of interest would be one major question his government would tackle : during an interview on TG5 on 11 May 2001, he said that he would draft a law on conflict of interest between the public affairs and his interests as businessman and media magnate “in the first hundred days of the government.” Some days later on 17 May, Mario Calducci, speaking for Forza Italia, Mr Berlusconi’s party, confirmed this in an interview and declared that the “conflict of interests is one of the four major points that Silvio Berlusconi will deal within the first hundred days of the government.”

The first hundred days have come and gone a long time ago and the conflict of interest remains unresolved.

The situation is made worse by the fact that the government continues to resist attempts to bring about long-overdue reforms in the administration of the Italian public broadcaster RAI. Attempts to maintain political influence over major public broadcasting channels – something which is out of step with the administration of public service television in all other European Union countries – continues to undermine the concept of politically-independent broadcasting which has been a benchmark of policy within the European Union for decades.

Mr Berlusconi’s continuing disinterested in the concept of public interest and public service values and his party’s opposition to reform within RAI creates an inexorable movement towards the creation of a media monopoly that is completely unacceptable in the modern democratic world.

It also weakens efforts to bring about reform of the public broadcasting sector in many countries of Eastern and Central Europe, including Hungary, for example, where the European Union and the IFJ have both expressed strong reservations over undue political influence on public service broadcasting.

The IFJ and the Public Service Broadcasting For All Campaign believes that the conflict of interest in Italy would not be tolerated by the European Union in any of the countries now being considered for EU membership in the enlargement process. It should not be acceptable in a member state.

The IFJ, the leadership of the Public Service for All Campaign and our colleagues in membership of the Federazione Nazionale dell Stampa Italiana, representing journalists throughout the country believe this issue must be resolved as a matter of urgency.

We ask you to raise this with the Italian authorities in the context of European Union policy.

We would also like an opportunity to meet with you to express our concerns in more detail, particularly on how the Italian situation continues to have a negative impact on the process of reform of public broadcasting in the wider Europe.

Yours Sincerely,

Aidan White

General Secretary

International Federation of Journalists