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Italy: television dominates public opinion

The Italian media are heavily influenced by politics and business. Ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi began building his media empire in the 1980s and his monopoly continues to constitute a threat to pluralism to this day.

Silvio Berlusconi.
(© picture-alliance/dpa)

In 2010 the international NGO Freedom House for the first time rated Italy among those countries where the press was no longer "free" but only "partly free". This evaluation was based on the one hand on the monopoly exerted by the few media companies and on the other by the tendency towards politically motivated restrictions on press freedom.

Particularly during Berlusconi's four terms in office, laws were introduced that eroded press freedom. One consequence was a tightening up of the libel law in 2012. And there are still plans to introduce a law carrying a penalty of up to three years imprisonment for journalists who publish tapped telephone conversations. The revelation in 2011 of a scandal involving the Vatican, Vatileaks, prompted lively debate about the publication of secret documents.

Takeovers of media companies are a permanent subject of debate in Italy. The power struggle for control of Italy's largest daily, the liberal-conservative Corriere della Sera, has been going on for years now. Major Italian concerns such as the car manufacturer Fiat and the fashion concern Tod´s hold shares in RCS publishers and are rivals for control of this attractive asset. A newspaper owned by a publisher with no other interests has become a rarity.

The circulations of Italian newspapers have fallen steadily during the media crisis, and over the past ten years they have been reduced by a third. As in many other countries, the fall in advertising revenues is hurting newspaper publishers.
Most newspapers are using some form of online paywall to compensate for these losses and at the same time to maintain quality standards. They draw a clear line between freely accessible websites containing mainly news reports and those containing commentaries, for which they usually charge.

One positive aspect is that the culture of journalistic commentary has a major tradition in Italy. Large numbers of expansive commentaries are the order of the day, and the more flowery the language, the better. The Internet has triggered a revival of this tradition, and there are countless blogs. Before he became a politician, the comedian and actor Beppe Grillo was also a blogger and made waves in this role. Now his Movimento Cinque Stelle is represented in parliament and his blog has become a kind of party organ.

However, television is still the favourite medium for commentators, for it has by far the largest audiences. Alongside public television and Berlusconi's Mediaset, a third player, the private channel La 7, has made a name for itself and in 2013 was bought by the publisher Urbano Cairo.

Press Freedom Index:

Reporters without Borders: 73rd place (2015)
Freedom House: 64th place (2014)

This country's media at euro|topics


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