As the general election in Italy approaches many will have read references to the ‘par condicio’ rule and wondered what it is and what it covers. It is one way Italy regulates the media – and there are other ways the country keeps an eye on what its citizens can read and see too.

Journalists
Being a journalist in Italy is different to many parts of the world. To practice journalism, Italian journalists have to be a member of the Ordine dei Giornalisti (Journalists’ Association, ODG). It is not a union or association like the National Union of Journalists in the UK, rather it is a state-approved organisation created by law in 1963. A professional journalist has to have passed exams set by the ODG to obtain a licence. Members pay an annual fee and have to abide by a code of conduct. The ODG advises the government on legislation regarding journalism.
The organisation has its critics: in the past, queries have been raised as to whether the freedom of expression guaranteed in the constitution could be limited by the obligation to be member of the ODG, and some feel it is old-fashioned, bureaucratic and open to nepotism that stifles young journalists getting ahead.

Whether the ODG is able to keep up with the fast-changing media world of the 21st century where citizen journalists and bloggers often hold equal sway alongside established news outlets remains to be seen. Increasingly, young Italians in particular are turning to internet services like YouTube, blogs and social media that are as perceived as providing impartial sources of information.

Newspaper Italy

Newspaper subsidies
Another way Italy differs from many other countries is that there are public subsidies for the press. Subsidies for Italian newspapers began after World War II. They were an attempt to protect the freedom of expression of cultural or political minorities. However, political parties have benefited from the legislative measures by using finds to publish their own newspapers and some regard the measures as a method of surreptitiously funding political parties. The system has also met criticism because it can create a conflict of interest, since a publisher may be wary of criticising those in power when the publisher’s newspaper is receiving public funding.

However, not all of Italy’s newspapers choose to benefit from public funding: daily ‘Il Fatto Quotidiano’ was founded in 2009 without any public funding, in an effort to ensure its independence. The newspaper survives on sales, subscriptions and advertising revenue rather than Italian state advertising and funding.

Par condicio
The par condicio rule was created to stem conflicts of interest regarding media content. It is akin to the American Fairness Doctrine policy whereby broadcasters had to present controversial issues of public importance in an equitable and balanced way. The law legislates on political-party broadcasting in an attempt to ensure candidates are treated equally and fairly, so they are meant to have the same amount of free airtime on public state broadcaster RAI.

The body that regulates em>par condicio for RAI is the Commissione Parlamentare di Vigilanza (Parliamentary Vigilance Committee) while the Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni (Authority for Communications Guarantees, AGCOM), the national communications industry authority, establishes the rules for the private sector.

In the period leading up to the current election, AGCOM declared that TV transmissions “should observe the criteria of impartiality, fairness, completeness, correctness, plurality of viewpoints and balance of political subjects.” It can sanction the unlawful use of the media by politicians.

Newspaper Italy

Under par condicio, political-campaigning and political debates on TV in talk shows and on newscasts cease two weeks prior to a general election when a blackout of sorts is introduced. Par condicio also prohibits the dissemination of opinion polls two weeks prior to a general election..

However, some critics say par condicio can stifle political debate and freedom of speech. Others point out that former premier and leader of the Popolo della Libertà party (People of Freedom, PdL) Silvio Berlusconi owns the main private television company in Italy, Mediaset. Although Mediaset is subject to par condicio just like the state broadcaster RAI is, this means he has the potential to use Mediaset’s facilities for free to promote his own party, which some feel gives him an advantage over his political rivals in getting his message across to the electorate.

The par condicio rule was created to stem conflicts of interest regarding media content. It is akin to the American Fairness Doctrine policy whereby broadcasters had to present controversial issues of public importance in an equitable and balanced way. The law legislates on political-party broadcasting in an attempt to ensure candidates are treated equally and fairly, so they are meant to have the same amount of free airtime on public state broadcaster RAI.

However, former premier and leader of the Popolo della Libertà party (People of Freedom, PdL) Silvio Berlusconi owns the main private television company in Italy, Mediaset. This means he can use Mediaset’s facilities to promote his own party, which some say gives him an advantage over his political rivals in getting his message across to the electorate.

Par condicio also prohibits the dissemination of opinion polls two weeks prior to a general election, when a blackout of sorts is introduced.

Newspaper Italy

Court reporting

In some countries such as the UK there are restrictions on court reporting. In the UK, the press is restricted by law in what it can report regarding an ongoing court case. The system attempts to promote open justice but there are restrictions in order to ensure fair trials; the protection of those who are vulnerable, such as children; and the names of rape and blackmail victims are suppressed in the interests of mitigating their pain and to encourage other such victims to come forward. Juries can be ordered not to read, listen to or watch any media reports.

In a country that has the par condicio rule and a state-approved organisation that journalists have to join, one might assume there would be legislation regarding the reporting of court cases in Italy, but in fact there is none. The professional and lay judges who decide the verdicts in Italian court cases are not sequestered, and are allowed to read news articles about a case.

The advantage of the lack of such restrictions regarding the reporting of ongoing court cases is that it protects freedom of speech. The disadvantage is that an individual on trial – perhaps even a politician – can comment on their case publicly during the duration of the court case. In cases that attract a lot of public attention, such as that regarding the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia in 2007, the Italian media published details regarding the accused that were untrue, which were then picked up around the world’s press. The ensuing media circus led to criticism of both the Italian media and judicial process.