Public funds for Italian media to be axed by 2013


“An important part of the Italian media sector is financed or receives subsidies from the state,” remarked James Murdoch in May 2011 at a meeting of young publishers in the Italian town of Bagnaia, warning that “when a government gives funds to the press, it asks in return to exert some kind of control over it.”

The Chief executive of News Corporation Europe and Asia certainly made a valid point that public money can jeopardise the chances for a country’s media industry to gain independence and international reputation. 

Italy, however, is not the only country in Europe that is supporting its press financially.

Unhealthy dependence on state funding

A research study published last summer by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, ‘Public Support for the Media, A Six-Country Overview of Direct and Indirect Subsidies’, shows that public subsidies differ greatly in Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States.

There is no evidence, according to the Reuters study, that subsidies actually improve the competitiveness of a country’s media market. There are far less print media readers in Italy in comparison to other European countries, despite the great amount of public funds granted to the written press. Figures vary, but in Italy the leitmotiv stays the same: newspapers and magazines receiving the highest amount of funding are those linked to a political party, movement or an individual political figure.

For political parties, supporting media outlets with public money seems to go hand in hand with their political need to befriend the press and use it to propagate their views and publicise press releases.

All 950 (!) Members of Parliament in Italy have the right to start up their own political paper, in which they can publish their opinions and inform the public about their parliamentary activity. Each one of these magazines is entitled to receive public funding, in the name of the right for MPs to communicate with the public.

Among the countries examined in the Reuters research study, it is Finland that allocates the largest amount of public funds to its media industry.

The data presented below shows that while Italy scores third in the amount of subsidies per inhabitant, it has by far the lowest number of sold copies. This means that many papers relying on public subsidies do not try to sell more copies nor improve their distribution. They don’t even hire talented journalists. Their goal is to secure the funds and distribute jobs to politically affiliated journalists.

In other words, while northern European countries tend to give high subsidies for already well developed media markets, Italy uses public funds to help newspapers maintain their status quo. In fact, as many as 100 Italian newspapers rely mostly on public funds for their survival rather than on sales or advertising revenues.



The Reuters study, written by Prof. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and former chief editor at Reuters Geert Linnebank, shows that while the US government allocates only 16 percent of public funds to the media, US newspapers attract 94 percent more readers than Italian ones. Germany spends 40 percent less than Italy on press subsidies yet reaches three times the number of Italian readers.

The research also points out that, in general, the allocation of public money does not seem to constitute any guarantee for a healthy media market, as public funds are not necessarily invested on innovation or improvements. Traditional media is by far the sector receiving most of the funding, leaving “innovative efforts and new media with little or no monetary support”, the study reveals.

At the time when Murdoch Jr underlined last May that “the lack of real competition and deregulation is a sign of failure”, the Italian politically well connected media was still in a position to rely on a traditional slowness in the legislative inquiry into the large funds granted to media corporations in the last decades.

Now, with a new government in charge, his words sound prophetical. As the economic and political crisis is deepening and Mario Monti’s cabinet is seizing the scissors to cut spending virtually in every domain of the Italian public sector, party-owned media organisations are expected to suffer from a much feared slash of public funds.

Need for innovation

Public subsidies are granted to a wide variety of media outlets (newspapers, television and radio channels) but the figure that shocks the most is the amount allocated to the printed press. In Italy, any newspaper owned by a political party is entitled to public funding.

Many local newspapers, which sometimes reach no more than a few thousand readers, also benefit greatly from the current subsidy system (see links below).

Regional newspapers such as Il Corriere di Forlì, Il Corriere di Perugia, Il Corriere del giorno di Puglia e Campania can count on EUR 2 million per year. Other media companies which have profited from the Italian subsidy system in the last years include Il Corriere Canadese (EUR 2.5 million), Sudtiroler tageszeitung (EUR 800.000), Sportsman (EUR 2.5 millions) and many others, some of which are printed abroad.

The newspapers which will be hit first by the new measures will be the ones that are politically owned, such as Liberazione, the voice of the communist party Rifondazione Comunista. “Are we banned?” titled the daily, following the government’s announcement.

The communist paper Liberazione will be hardy hit by the planned subsidy cuts

The amount granted to newspapers such as Liberazione is little, however, compared to the almost EUR 40 million given in the past seven years to other national newspapers such as Libero, which can rely on funding by functioning as the official daily information channel for the national Royalist Party.

Libero’s owner, the Angelucci family, also runs the socialist magazine Il Riformista, for which it received EUR 10 million in the past three years.

It comes as no surprise then to recognise the names of many publishers, such as Antonio Angelucci, in the list of Parliament members. Even though the most famous publishers sitting in Parliament, alongside the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, are just a few, the actual number of publishers is likely to match the number of MPs, since each one of them is entitled by law to use public funds to publish a newspaper.

In view of this situation, it could be argued that there is a need for even wider cuts. Between 2000 and 2006 about EUR 1 billion was spent exclusively for party-run newspapers and magazines, according to government data. In 2010, a sum of EUR 150 million was allocated to local print media outlets alone.

As far as non-political newspapers are concerned, they will not see their subsidies axed just yet, although the government’s goal is to stop funding completely by 2013.

“We risk losing thousands of jobs”, cried out the official journalists federation FNSI, reminding Monti’s government that many smaller publishers are greatly dependent on public funds.

In the meantime, Monti’s promise to eliminate public subsidies by 2013, which he made at the beginning of December 2011, has already turned to a half promise, after the directors of several national newspapers asked him to further consider the outcome of the cuts in terms of job losses.

Monti now seems to privilege the idea of setting up a temporary fund exclusively for improvements in the media sector in terms of innovation, although up until now online media outlets have not received any significant state support.

In the end, it seems likely that many workers will lose their jobs and that party-run media might have to move out of the printing business or finally invest in innovation, new media and less expensive entrepreneurial activities.

Hopefully this will not simply mean job cuts in journalism but rather that media companies will start recruiting journalists on the basis of their merit and not according to their political affiliation.

Sources (in Italian):
Editoria, cinque cose che bisogna sapere su Malinconico e la Fieg
Finanziamento pubblico all’editoria
Monti elimina i contributi statali per alcuni quotidiani
“Editoria italiana ostaggio dei contributi statali”
Tagli all’editoria: si apre uno spiraglio
Contributi all’editoria: il nuovo regolamento