There has not been much good news coming out of Italy lately, and we shouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon. The weak “technocratic” government is committed to an austerity and liberalization program that strikes at the heart of the Italian political system, and the politicians have the votes to water down and amend whatever the government proposes. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, and Sicilian and other politicians from Italy’s sunny south don’t vote for transparent public finance.But there is at least one ray of sunshine coming out of Italy at the end of 2011: newspaper subsidies will be cut by about 70 percent, falling to a mere €50 million. For some, this is sad news. The Italian Communist daily L’Unita, for example, will be closing its doors. But overall, the concept of press subsidies is one of the most dangerous and destructive I can think of.The separation of press and state is as important as the separation of church and state. A press that depends on government subsidies to survive is not free. It is bought and paid for, and it should shut up.In fairness to the Italian press corps, the arm of the corrupt Italian state is so long, and its hand is so heavy, that press subsidies were something of an equalizer. During the Berlusconi era, a time when the chief preoccupation of Italian politics was the passage of successive laws immunizing the prime minister from trials and corruption laws, the government favored Berlusconi controlled media outlets, and Italian state television competes with private sector print newspapers. Press subsidies were a bone thrown to smaller, more marginal outlets while the state media and the prime minister’s personal media empire feasted at the head table.One suspects that the former prime minister smiled when he realized that he could use the fiscal crisis as an excuse to cut the finances of the “independent” press.Even so, Italy needs to get its government out of the news business, and the news business out of the government’s pocket. The transition will be tough, but in the long run this will strengthen the press and that, in turn, will hasten the reform and improvement of the Italian state.The internet offers ways to greatly reduce the cost structure of news organizations while improving their reach. Journalists will be less dependent on large commercial and political interests; smaller, more agile news organizations can bring more genuine diversity and independence to Italian public debate than the inefficient legacy media. Ultimately the internet takes power away from big corporate conglomerates and gives good writers and thinkers a chance to reach the public directly.If Italian journalists are nimble, entrepreneurial and smart, the end of press subsidies will be a milestone on the road to a better, more responsive, more honest and more useful press.
Good News From Italy?
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