COMPENDIUM CULTURAL POLICIES AND TRENDS IN EUROPE
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To address the crisis in the publishing industry a new draft law will create a Fund for the pluralism and innovation of information, between 2016 and 2018.

 

A law reforming the public broadcasting company – enhancing the role of a government appointed CEO - adopted in December 2016, has not been generally well received by critics.

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Italy/ 5.3 Sector specific legislation  

5.3.7 Mass media

This section will deal simultaneously with radio / television and the press: legislation on these two media is, in fact, strictly interconnected in our country, as they are regulated, since the 1990s, under a unified system made up of "umbrella laws".

When a Constitutional Court Decision, taken in 1976, abolished the Italian state monopoly on local radio and TV broadcasting, a protracted legislative gap – allowing the proliferation of private local stations which subsequently became national networks – resulted in the creation of a duopoly by RAI (the public company) and Mediaset (the private company owned by the media tycoon and present Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.. Television thrived in this uniquely unregulated system, thus exercising fierce competition towards the other media: the cinema (see chapter 5.3.6) and the press industry, the latter already endemically affected by low reading rates (see  chapter 7.2).

At the end of the 1970s, the press in Italy – confronted with falling income from the sale of newspapers and periodicals, as well as with a decline in advertising (see chapter 4.2.3) – represented a classic case of "market failure", not being able to survive without direct and indirect public financing. Ad hoc legislation started with Law 416/1981 on the discipline and financial subsidies for the publishing industry of dailies and periodicals, byintroducingbesidesthe first antitrust measures in the press system –a whole range of financial support measures for this troubled industry: tax incentives for capital investments, loans, grants, and postal tariff facilities. The criteria for support were subsequently modified by Law 250/1990 on subsidies to the publishing industry of dailies and periodicals, by further increasing the amount of the state financial grants. Subsequently various budget laws have modified the grants, by significantly raising them up to around 500 million EUR in 2007: so much so that, for several years, the Italian press industry has probably been among those most heavily subsidised in Europe. However, since the end of that decade, such grants have been substantially reduced (see chapter 4.2.3).

It should be mentioned that, the 2007 report Daily, Periodical and Multimedia Publishing, issued by the Antitrust Authority, had actually been very critical of the support system to the press in Italy, deemed also by the Court of Accounts as characterised by "a stratification of heterogeneous direct and indirect measures… where it is not easy to single out an organic and well planned underlying strategy aimed at the protection of pluralism".

A reform of the existing system has actually been envisaged by DL. n. 63/2011 – the so-called Decreto Salva Italia, adoptedby the Monti Government with a view to rebalancing Italy's financial situation. According to Article 29, the Decree provided for the current system of direct state subsidies to newspapers and periodicals to be replaced, in the near future, by subsidies to the publishing industry aimed at fostering technological innovation as well as the informatisation of the distribution system. Meanwhile, D.L. n. 103/2012 established more stringent prerequisites for having access to state contributions. Furthermore, to encourage the digitalisation of the press, it provided access to increased state contributions for newspapers and periodicals transferring their publication from paper to on-line format.

Consequently, while ordinary contributions to the press underwent a further, strong reduction (see chapter 4.2.3), a newlaw – Law 147/2013 –established an "extraordinary fund for the support of the publishing industries". However this fund – endowed by the law with 50 million EUR for 2014, 40 million for 2015 and 30 million for 2016 – is not only aimed at encouraging technological and digital innovation, but also at providing a social security "cushion" to allow slumping publishing houses to anticipate retirement measures concerning journalists considered to be redundant.

Such rationalising measures highlight the extent of the financial crisis affecting the press and threatening not only employment, but pluralism in the information system as well, in a country with a scant readers' index (see chapter 8.2.1), and where a large number of Italian families still have poor access to the Internet (see chapter 4.2.11).

To cope with such a chronic and protracted crisis in the publishing industry - more and more heavily affected by the decline in advertising revenues and in earned income from sales (see chapter 4.2.6) - the Renzi government has addressed this issue, as well. In February 2016 a draft law on the creation, at the Ministry of the Economy, of a Fund for the pluralism and innovation of information – endowed with 100 million EUR for each year between 2016 and 2018 - has been adopted by the Parliament, and is now pending at the Senate. It delegates the government to establish the criteria for allocating the fund's financial resources both to the publishing industry and to local television stations, according to guidelines aimed at encouraging innovation and further digitalisation, restructuring the distribution system, safeguarding minorities (including the linguistic ones) and – last but not least – providing social security measures for the declining employment in the field.

As far as the television industry in Italy is concerned, unlike in other countries, it remained totally unregulated throughout the 1980s, until Law 223/1990 was finally adopted, to regulate the duopolistic public/private radio-televisionsystem. Besides dealing with the planning of radio frequencies, the distribution of licences between RAI, private networks and local broadcasters, advertising, etc., the law extended its scope to the communication system as a whole, including the press, notably by introducing comprehensive antitrust measures for the media industry, thus modifying regulations provided for the press by Law 416/1981. In particular, in order toprevent the abuse of dominantpositions, publishers in control of more than 8% or 16% of circulating newspapers were not allowed to own, respectively, more than one or two TV licences.

A subsequent Law (249/1997) provided for the creation of AGCOM - a Supervisory Authority for Guarantees in Communications, a public autonomous agency - presently linked with the Undersecretary for Communications at the Ministry for Economic Development - with supervising powers for the press, TV, radio and telecommunications. The law also outlined additional antitrust measures stating, in particular, that no entity operating in the radio-television and in the publishing industries should control more than 20% of the total financial resources flowing to the field (advertising, licence fees, etc..).

This frequently disregarded antitrust legislation was significantly loosened by Law 112/2004, the so called "Gasparri Law" (named after the Centre-Right Minister for Communication) regulating the media sector. In fact, this controversial law further endorsed duopoly in the television system (see chapter 4.2.6), while modifying the rules of the game as far as antitrust measures are concerned, thus allowing uncontrolled expansion both for RAI and Mediaset, and reducing even more space for other media operators. Notwithstanding the will expressed by the centre-left government (2006-2008) to amend the Gasparri Law, and to contain the patent conflict of interests, the situation has even worsened throughout the years of the subsequent Berlusconi government (2008-2011).

Antitrust legislation and the conflict of interest do not seem to be a priority anymore for the centre-left government after the dismissal of Berlusconi, so much so that the issue has not been dealt with by Law 229/2015 on the reform of RAI - amending the Gasparri law - adopted in December 2016 by the Renzi government, and has been postponed to a further law. According to the RAI reform law - focused on the reorganisation of the company's governance – its board of 7 members are elected by the Parliament, by the Minister of the Economy and by the employees of the company. The board's powers, though, will be diminished, as most of them are entrusted to a very powerful CEO, appointed by the Minister of the Economy. On the other hand, as far as the most important issue of redefining RAI's mission and the notion of public service are concerned, the law provides for a consultation to take place in 2016, also in view of the expiration, in the same year, of RAI's "Contract of Public Service" with the state. It should be mentioned that this law has not been well received by the many critics of the excesses of the Italian public television company's politicisation, who believe that RAI will be under more government control.


Chapter published: 15-07-2016

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