According to this article on the International Federation of Journalists’ web site, a new regulation in Italy will, in effect, ban any poltical content in the public broadcaster RAI’s talk shows during the month preceding elections. The ban won’t apply as long as all the 18 political parties standing for election are given an equal amount of air time. This condition is, of course, incompatible with any form of normal editorial practice, and programme makers, rightly, point out that the new regulation is in practice a total ban on political debate on prime-time broadcasting.
Italy has for many years now been criticized for its poor standards of press freedom – and especially so with regard to poltical influence on editorial matters in the public broadcaster RAI. This last move seems to confirm thta something is seriously wrong with Italian political culture regarding essential and basic principles of press freedom and editorial independence.
How on earth can Berlusconi and Italian authorities for one moment believe that such a regulation can be compatible with for instance the European Human Rights Convention (ECHR) Article 10 (freedom of expression), in view of the rather clear judgment fra the European Court of Human Rights (ECrtHR) in the case of TV Vest and others v. Norway?
I wrote an extensive post, with an analysis of the TV Vest judgment in May last year. Although the judgment itself and my analysis basically concerns state regulation of poltical speech in the context of political advertisements on television, the findings of the Court in that case would in my opinion apply with even more strength to any regulation which actually meddles with the editorial independence in pure editorial content. One of the key roles of the press in a democratic society is to give the public an independant and critical view of all political questions. For the state authorities to start regulating if, how and when the media is to cover poltical topics, including by interviewing politicians or letting them debate their issues and views in a television studio or in the newspapers, is so blatently in contravention with any normal principles of press freedom and freedom of political speech, that I doubt the judges in Strasbourg would need more time than it takes to actually put their finding on paper, to conclude that Italy is in violation of the ECHR Article 10 in this case.
The question is: Will anyone in Italy bother to file the necassary complaint? With the political control which seems to have taken hold of RAI itself, we probably won’t see the main victim of the violation as party to a complaint to Strasbourg. Hopefully, other formal victims of this regulation will do the job…