Status: Free
Legal Environment: 9 (of 30)
Political Environment: 11 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 9 (of 30)
Total Score: 29 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Status change explanation: Italy's rating improved from Partly Free to Free primarily as a result of Silvio Berlusconi's exit as prime minister. Although private broadcast media in Italy are still concentrated in the hands of the Berlusconi-dominated Mediaset, the public broadcaster, RAI, is no longer under his control.

In April 2006, Romano Prodi's center-left Union bloc narrowly won parliamentary elections, putting an end to Silvio Berlusconi's long premiership. Under Berlusconi's rule, Italy suffered from a concentration of media power in the hands of the former prime minister, who, through his private media holdings and political power over the state television networks, controlled almost 90 percent of the country's broadcast media.

Freedom of speech and of the press are constitutionally guaranteed in Italy. In April 2004, the Senate adopted the Gasparri Law on Broadcasting, which ostensibly introduced a number of reforms, like the preparation for the switch-over from analog to digital broadcasting; however, the law was heavily criticized for providing measures that served the interests of then prime minister Berlusconi's extensive media holdings. For example, the law removed a previous restriction on one person owning more than two national broadcasting stations, allowing Retequattro, one of three television stations owned by Mediaset, to continue terrestrial broadcasting. In July 2006, the European Union (EU) Commission sent Italy a formal complaint that the law, because of its concessions to Mediaset, is not compatible with EU rules on competition in the markets for electronic communications networks and services and the new EU Regulatory Framework for Electronic Communications.

In April, Mario Spezi, a journalist working on a book about a series of murders in Florence from 1968 to 1985, was arrested and jailed for 22 days for allegedly obstructing the investigation of the murders. Spezi, who had his hard disk, notebooks, and other materials seized by the police in 2004, has criticized the judiciary a number of times over the past several years for their handling of the case. In August 2006, police searched the homes and offices of newspaper reporters in connection with the investigation of the supposed kidnapping and extradition of an imam by Central Intelligence Agency agents in Italy in 2002. In February 2006, the Italian broadcast regulatory authority fined Mediaset for giving Berlusconi extra time on the air to promote his campaign for prime minister. Berlusconi was also criticized for appearing alone for a debate on the show Liberi Tutti. Two additional fines were levied against two Mediaset stations for the same offense just a few days before the election.

Despite Berlusconi's resignation from the premiership, the broadcast media in Italy remain concentrated, with the state-owned RAI and Berlusconi's Mediaset controlling 87.5 percent of the market share. Nonetheless, a Council of Europe report released in February 2006 demonstrated that despite the concentration of broadcast media ownership in Italy, there is considerable diversity of content in the country's news and other media. In fact, the print media, which consist of several national newspapers (two of which are controlled by the Berlusconi family), continue to provide diverse political opinions, including those critical of the government. The government generally does not restrict access to the internet, and roughly 50 percent of the population accessed this new medium in 2006. However, the government can block foreign-based internet sites if they contravene national law. After the 2005 London bombings by Islamist extremists, Italy's Parliament approved a new Antiterror Law that includes surveillance of the internet and requires one to have a license to operate an internet café.

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