Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 11 (of 30)
Political Environment: 11 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 10 (of 30)
Total Score: 32 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)
Covers events that took place between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2008.
Freedoms of speech and of the press are constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected despite ongoing concerns regarding concentration of media ownership. The 2004 Gasparri Law on Broadcasting, which introduced a number of reforms (including preparations for the switch from analog to digital broadcasting), was heavily criticized for provisions that enabled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to maintain his control of the private media market. In June 2008, the cabinet approved a bill that would impose heavy fines or jail terms on journalists who use the transcripts from wiretaps without a judge's permission. The bill, which had yet to win parliamentary approval at year's end, was similar to one passed by the lower house in 2007. Libel cases continued to burden Italian journalists during the year. One was brought against the author and journalist Alexander Stille by Fedele Confalonieri, the chairman of Berlusconi's media company, Mediaset. He objected to several passages in Stille's 2006 book, The Sack of Rome, which details Berlusconi's rise to power. In May, Senate president Renato Schifani sued journalist Marco Travaglio for libel after he hinted at ties between Schifani and criminals during a program aired by the public television network, Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI). These cases, and at least two others brought by government officials, were ongoing at year's end. In September, a Milan court acquitted the Economist magazine of libel in a suit brought by Berlusconi following the 2001 publication of an article that characterized him as unfit to lead the country.
Pluralism in the Italian media faced a serious threat in 2008 when the television channel La7 announced plans to lay off 25 members of its 88-person news department, citing vague accusations of "unproductiveness." La7 is the only national-level alternative to the RAI, controlled by Berlusconi's government, and the channels owned by Berlusconi through Mediaset, the country's largest private television company. La7 has been considered the most impartial and independent channel in the highly politicized Italian television landscape. Organized crime also significantly affects media freedom in Italy. The author Roberto Saviano has been living under police protection since the 2006 publication of his book Gamorrah, an examination of the Neapolitan crime syndicate known as the Camorra. There were also a series of attacks on journalists in Rome during the year, organized by far-right groups. These included harassment while attempting to cover stories, vandalism of journalists' vehicles, and the storming of RAI's studios following the airing of footage showing certain far-right activists at student demonstrations in the Piazza Navona. Far-right groups have opposed media scrutiny of their anti-immigrant activities and student demonstrations.
Italy suffers from an unusually high concentration of media ownership by European standards. With the 2006 election of Romano Prodi as prime minister, overt government interference in media content began to diminish. However, Berlusconi's return to power in April 2008 gave him the potential to once again control up to 90 percent of the country's broadcast media through the state-owned outlets and his own private media holdings. The prime minister is the main shareholder of Mediaset; the country's largest magazine publisher, Mondadori; and its largest advertising company, Publitalia. His brother owns one of the country's nationwide dailies, Il Giornale. Nonetheless, a 2006 Council of Europe report found that there was considerable diversity of content in the country's news and other media. There are many newspapers and news magazines, most of them with regional bases. Newspapers are primarily run by political parties or owned by large media groups, and they continue to provide a range of political opinions, including those critical of the government.
Although the internet is generally unrestricted, the government blocks foreign websites if they violate national laws, and the police monitor certain websites in an effort to catch child pornographers. After the 2005 London bombings by Islamist extremists, Italy's parliament approved a new antiterrorism law that requires internet cafes to obtain a government license in order to operate, legalizes internet surveillance, and obliges internet cafe users to show photo identification. Blogs have become an important source of news for many Italians. One blog, beppegrillo.it, run by the popular Italian comedian Giuseppe Grillo, has been ranked among the 10 most visited blogs in the world, and many posts receive over 1,000 comments. Approximately 48 percent of the population accessed the internet regularly in 2008.
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