As already stated, both the structure of the Italian mass media system and the performance of professional journalist are deeply shaped by the interventions of both the Italian Parliament and the Government. Through the years, the decisions of the judiciary, specifically of Corte Costituzionale (Constitutional Court) have been important as well. For example, a 1979 decision opened the market for commercial television entrants, and paved the way for the large and influential operations, like Berlusconi’s Mediaset, that we see today.
Over the last three decades, Parliament and Government interventions have lacked a coherent approach, often influenced by the partisan considerations of the day. Tight links between politicians and media organisations, for their part, have also limited the ability for opposing entities to agree on a shared regulatory approach. The history of Silvio Berlusconi and his television investments is an important example of this longstanding overlap between the media and politics. Indeed, this particular conflict of interest has dramatically influenced Italian political history.
Despite these difficulties, there has been movement to enact communications legislation. Law No. 249/1997, for instance, reformed the audiovisual and telecommunications system, creating a new framework of broadcasting frequencies. It divided broadcasting frequencies between three public channels (RAI1, RAI2, RAI3) and eight national commercial networks, including the most important existing ones: Canale 5, Italia 1, Rete 4 (all owned by Mediaset). About 800 small to medium-size independent private local television stations were also allocated spectrum.
Today, Law No.112/2004, also known as “Legge Gasparri”, is the main regulatory instrument for television, print press and new media. This law was widely debated and sparked substantial public outcry, prompting the Italian President, Azeglio Ciampi, to intervene in the legislative process and send it back to the Chamber of Deputies and Senate for revision. The European Commission also activated a procedura di infrazione (infringement case No. 2005/2006) against Italy because the distribution of spectrum frequencies was argued to favour existing operators of analogue television services and limit the formation of a pluralistic market.
This law reflects the principal assumption: Digitalisation has allowed for a plurality of competitors, beyond the legacy media. Under what the law defines as Integrated Communication System (SIC), the emergence of new entrants in the print press, television, online newspaper, radio, cinema, and advertising industries, among others, are considered. Under this law, limits to property concentration are diluted among a large number of entities and, in this way, the entire Berlusconi media conglomerate is safeguarded.
There is also a part of the “Gasparri” law that relates to RAI. It establishes a new procedure for the appointment of board members through the Treasury Minister. The Minister is provided with suggestions from Commissione Parlamentare di Vigilanza and, as such, political parties may be able exert some control over RAI, which had been limited by previous rules.