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Good News From Italy?

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.

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  • Luke Lea

    “Ultimately the internet takes power away from big corporate conglomerates and gives good writers and thinkers a chance to reach the public directly.” @WRM

    I wonder? Sources have become so fragmented one hardly knows where to look for reliable information and analysis. Meanwhile standards have fallen in the old stand-by publications: NYT, WSJ, Washington Post.

    Prime example: causes and cures of the current world financial crisis? At the moment I look to this guy for the most coherent analysis: here, here, and here.

    As for what’s really going on inside China, I have not the foggiest idea. Neither does anyone else. We’ve tied ourselves to a pig in a poke.

  • BillH

    Professor Mead, why don’t you spearhead creation of a well publicized, incorruptible credentialing body to grant a seal of approval to insightful, analytical blogs, so as to distinguish them from the mass of huffers, puffers, attention whores and BS artists that now infests the web? Then, as the Legacy Media disappear, we proletariat-types could get useful information and analysis without having to sift through so much garbage.

  • Kris

    “Sicilian and other politicians from Italy’s sunny south don’t vote for transparent public finance.”

    I am reminded of this map of how (Northern) Italians view the world:

  • Lorenz Gude

    As a student of the media I must confess that I have no feel for this dubious sounding state of affairs in Italy. In the English speaking world I have long marveled at the left leaning behavior of the state supported BBC and its Australian counterpart the ABC as well as the US NPR and Public Television. regardless of who is in power. In the 80s when I was teaching Media Studies I compared evening news sample from these outlets recorded the same news cycle and to my surprise found the BBC the most non objective. Classy, entertaining, but shamelessly biased. I like the Aussie ABC because on election night they openly cheer for the labor party in the tally room but interview the other party’s candidates with good humor and fairness. In my observation these Anglospheric state sponsored media outlets are more creatures of academia than of government. I find myself recalling Charlie Rose’s clear distress with a man he clearly liked – Michael Creighton – that he could possibly question Global Warming orthodoxy. I can’t say that I encountered even one open conservative in my academic career. In fact I wonder where Murdoch finds people to staff Fox News. I suspect that they are not real people at all but genetically engineered clones produced from vats by Halliburton. 😉

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