A reform of the system of subsidies to the press is planned for the end of 2013.
Reform of the television system has been set as an utmost priority by the new Monti government, but so far has been limited to the appointment of a new president and board (June 2012).
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: see also chapter 4.2.6). 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, by introducing – besides the 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, which further increased the amount of the state financial grants. In the following years, various subsequent budget laws have modified the grants: raising them until 2007 (so much so that the Italian press industry has probably been, for several years, the most heavily subsidised in Europe), however slowing them down at the end of the decade (see chapter 4.2.3).
It should be mentioned that, in 2007, the 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". In a new Report issued in October 2009, the Authority demanded again an urgent and deep reform of the state support to the press. However such a reform never saw the light of day, heaving been replaced by a drastic cut to the subsidies provided for by the Budget Law for 2010 (L. 121/23 December 2009, art. 2 ), which also modified the more objective funding criteria established by previous legislation, by endowing the government with more discretionary powers.
A reform of the existing system providing subsidies to the press has been envisaged – if belatedly – by D.L. n.63/2011, the so called Decreto Salva Italia, dealing with the first set of measures adopted by the then just appointed Monti Government in view of a general rebalancing of Italy's financial situation. According to art. 29 of the D.L., in fact, the present system of direct state subsidies to newspapers and periodicals should come to an end after 2013, to be replaced by subsidies to the publishing industries aimed at fostering technological innovation as well as the informatisation of the distribution system. Meanwhile, D.L. n. 63/2012, adopted in May, establishes more stringent prerequisites for having access to state contributions, lowering, at the same time, the maximum amount of every single contribution. Furthermore, in order to encourage the digitalisation of the press, the decree provides access to increased state contributions for newspapers and periodicals which will transfer their publication from paper to on line format.
Such measures, combined with a substantial reduction in the amount of state subsidies (see chapter 4.2.3), represents a threat to the survival of many newspapers: some publications of political parties have been actually already transferred on line, whereas others – more relevant, like Il Manifesto – are presently struggling to stay in paper form. In a country like Italy, with such a scant readers' index (see chapter 8.2.1), it may not be suitable to further discourage reading, for the pluralism of information's sake. And even more so as a large number of Italian families still do not have access to the Internet (see chapter 4.2.11).
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-television system. 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 to prevent the abuse of dominant positions, 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 a Supervisory Authority for the Guarantees in Communications, a public autonomous agency, presently linked with the Vice Minister for Communications, 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, i.e. advertising, sponsors, 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 firm will expressed by the centre-left government (2006-2008) to amend the Gasparri Law, the situation has not changed, and even worsened because of the patent conflict of interests lingering throughout the years of the last Berlusconi government (2008-2011).
Reforming our anomalous and far from pluralistic television system has been set as an utmost priority by Prime Minister Monti and his government. There are some doubts, though, that a provisional, un-political government composed by technicians will have the strength to carry out such a complex and controversial reform in a short lapse of time.