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Italy30 April 2004

Gasparri law finally adopted

The Senate on 29 April 2004 adopted the "Gasparri" law on reform of broadcasting. The law, officially aimed at preparing the changeover to digital terrestrial television, allows cross-media ownership, reform of anti-trust limits and sets the composition of the board of governors of public RAI television. The measures serving the interests of the group Mediaset, owned by Silvio Berlusconi, have been retained. Reporters Without Borders repeats its opposition to this text, which presents a danger for the independence of public television and a threat to pluralism of news and information. On 15 December 2003, Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, refused to sign the "Gasparri" law and sent it back to both chambers of parliament for a further reading.


President refuses to sign broadcast media reform bill

Italian President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, has refused to sign a broadcast media reform bill and called on both houses of parliament to re-examine the law. The president sent parliament a five-page commentary on the "Gasparri" bill on 15 December. He pointed out that there was a risk of it "permitting the creation of dominant positions" and that some aspects "in terms of pluralism of news did not appear to conform to the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court". The president particularly condemned the fact that Silvio Berlusconi’s third channel Retequattro would avoid transfer to satellite before 31 December 2003 as demanded by the Constitutional Court.


President urged to veto broadcasting law for the sake of press freedom

Reporters Without Borders today urged President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi to veto the Gasparri law on TV broadcasting, passed yesterday by parliament, on the grounds that it is a threat to press freedom.

The law is meant to pave the way for terrestrial digital TV, but it also allows companies to have interests in more than one news media category, reforms anti-trust restrictions and changes the composition of the state broadcaster RAI’s board of governors. The president has a month to approve the law, or veto it if he thinks it violates constitutional principles.

"This reform, which clearly serves the interests of the Mediaset group owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, represents a real danger for the autonomy of public television and a threat to pluralism in news and information," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to President Ciampi. "We call on you to refuse to endorse this law in the name of press freedom," he wrote.

"The simultaneous possession by one person of a news media empire and the highest political office is a unique anomaly in Europe, one that will just be aggravated by the broadcasting law and the proposed law on conflict of interests," Ménard continued. "The European Union would thereby set a very bad example to countries which have still to absorb the principles of press freedom and democracy."

The new law lifts a ban on anyone owning more than two national broadcast channels. Prime Minister Berlusconi will thus be able to continue owning his three terrestrial broadcast channels (Italia 1, Canale 5 and Retequattro), although the constitutional court had insisted that Retequattro should become a satellite channel in January to comply with competition laws.

By lifting a ban on holding interests in more than one news media category, the new law will also allow those who own TV channels to acquire newspapers and vice versa, although in practice, the print media are too strapped for cash to take advantage of it. Beginning in January 2009, however, someone who owns more than one TV channel will be able to make print media acquisitions. In fact, Berlusconi is already the owner of Mondadori, one of Italy’s biggest print media and publishing groups.

In its reform of antitrust limits, the new law says no owner will be allowed to have more than 20 per cent of global advertising income, but global income is redefined to include not only TV spots but also advertising in the print media, cinema and publishing. Mediaset and the state broadcaster RAI together currently take 93 per cent of TV advertising income, with Mediaset alone taking 63 per cent.

Finally, the law also provides for the progressive privatisation of RAI and a change in the composition of its board of governors. RAI’s privatisation is to begin before the end of January but no one will be able to own more 1 per cent of the shares, which will leave the economy ministry in control.

Instead of having five members named by the presidents of the senate and chamber of deputies, RAI’s board of governors will have nine members - seven of them named by the parliamentary monitoring commission and two by the economy ministry. Lucia Annunziata, the chairperson of RAI’s board of governors, has said she will resign as soon as the law is approved by President Ciampi.

The proposed conflict of interest law, which is still awaiting the senate’s approval, says the management of a profit-making enterprise is incompatible with public office, but insists that there is no conflict of interests if the running of the company is entrusted to another person. Since Berlusconi’s companies are run by family members and associates and Berlusconi’s name does not appear in their organisation charts, under the proposed law there would be no conflict of interests in his case.

In a report entitled "A media conflict of interest: anomaly in Italy," published in April, Reporters Without Borders analysed the consequences of Berlusconi’s conflict of interests on the diversity of news and information in Italy, which fell to 53rd position in the Reporters Without Borders worldwide press freedom ranking in 2003.

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