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The face of the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi became the image for the new campaign of the German public television networks ARD and ZDF, promoting the freedom and the independence of the media.
Next to the image of the smiling Italian Premier appears the slogan “Democracy is only as strong as its media”. Simple and clear the recall to the Italian “special situation” regarding media freedom and the concentration of powers in the Prime Minister’s hands.
Mr Berlusconi is the owner of Mediaset, the largest broadcast media group in Italy, but that’s not all. He is also the main Italian publisher because he owns the publishing house Mondadori, which controls the 50 per cent of the books market and a very large share of that of magazine too. Moreover his family is the owner of the newspaper Il Giornale, that constantly expresses support to him and to his political party.
Being the Prime Minister, the head of the government, he also exerts a strong influence over the public television RAI, that has always been characterized by a historical politicization and conditioning from the government and the political parties.
During his various legislatures since 1994 – the current is the forth – were passed numerous laws which favoured Mr Berlusconi and his family’s enterprises also in the regulations of the media sector.
The particular situation of Italy in matter of media freedom is an actual anomaly. The conflict of interest of the Prime Minister, the concentration of the media, the strong political control of the governments alternatively in charge over the broadcasting service are the peculiarities of this anomaly.
Since 2004 Freedom House in reporting its results of an analysis about freedom of press and information in the world’s countries, defined Italy as “partly free” according to its position in the rank scale. 2010 results see Italy at 75 position, just before Bulgaria and Namibia, still defining it as partly free.
Many international institutions and organization – as “Special Rapporteur” of UN, OSCE Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, International Press Institute, Council of Europe, EFJ International Federation of Journalists, OSI Open Society Institute, IHF International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights – expressed their concern on the Italian situation of independence and freedom of media.
The OSCE reported about the conflict of interest: “In a democracy, it is incompatible to be both in command of news media and to hold a public post”.
On the same issue the International Press Institute “Italy has a special place in Europe with regard to freedom of the media because in no European country does the prime minister, the head of the government, who is the politician that can exert the most power over the state media, own most of the other broadcasting media, and many of the print media”.
The European Commission gave notice also of “the imbalance between press and television, that absorbs the 60 per cent of the overall mass media advertising spending; the substantial monopoly of privately-owned television, with Mediaset that continues to show a significant increase in income and revenues every year, thanks to the “dragging effect” of the “Berlusconi-Prime Minister” factor.
The problems of the Italian style democracy in the media sector – and in other fields as well – are well-known, but been an insider the consciousness of a real lack of independence in the media is stronger than out of the country.
Just who is used to watch the various TV channels can feel the difference between them and their way to supply information. The same news can sound very different from channel to channel according to their political tendency or their ownership. Even the images can be totally conflicting. Television and press are clearly politicized. The “inconvenient news” for the ruling class and its head is opportunely avoided or disguised by the main channels and newspapers.
Only the opposition gives a wider view of the facts, but also in those channels and newspapers – which are not as influential as the others – is the political tendency or the membership to a political party that influence the news. Journalism is always political in Italy, in a way or another.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister’s image is being used in another country as a negative figure to promote the freedom of media, Italians have to face this sad reality – mostly unawares – which sounds very far from the Western democratic world.