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Italian Media Monopoly

Silvio Berlusconi, photo: vas vas/flickr

When speaking of press freedom, Western European countries usually score highest in rankings from institutions like Freedom House or Reporters Without Borders. They are all declared as “free” with one notable exception: Italy.

In the 2009 report Freedom House downgraded Italy from “free” to “partly free”, highlighting worrisome trends that have been underlined by recent events.

In February of this year four managers from Google Italy’s YouTube branch had to stand trial because of accusations regarding privacy violations. This was only one month after Italian officials proposed a new law against online copyright infringement which holds responsible companies that host and broadcast copyright protected content illegally (i.e. YouTube). Meanwhile, Google is still engaged in a similar legal dispute with Mediaset, a private media corporation controlled by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

On 2 March 2010 the administrative council of Italy’s public television network RAI announced that two popular political talk shows will not be allowed to broadcast for one month until regional elections are over. State officials justified the decision by pointing to a law that guarantees equal opportunity of representation on public media channels to all parties. However, opponents argue that the decision is purely political as the two talk shows “Anno Zero” and “Balla-rò” have heavily criticized Berlusconi in the past. » More

The Two Sides of Press Freedom

Don't let it yellow: Freedom of Press / Photo: just.Luc, flickr

Freedom of press is challenged, if not restricted, in such places as Yemen, Venezuela, the US and Austria, say the authors of a Swiss public radio (DRS) program. As various as the countries are the causes of that challenge.

Whereas the makers of Al-Ayam in Aden are sitting on piles of newspapers because the Yemeni government prevents them from distributing their publication, Yemen Times is trying to accommodate the government in Sana’a by exercising self-censorship. In Latin America, Hugo Chavez is infamous for his hard hand on media, but also in Argentina the government has tried to restrict them.

But not all restrictions are due to despots, juntas or skittish administrations.

In the US, the challenge to press freedom is economic in nature: the financial crisis has severely weakened metropolitan newspapers. As an example, the DRS reporter mentions the Boston Globe, which during senatorial elections in previous years would dissect each candidate. Not so this time: Massachusetts’ citizens hardly know their new senator of choice, Scott Brown.
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US Internet Policy: Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Censored, courtesy of gojira75/flickr

Last week, an article in Arab Crunch stated that internet users from Syria, Sudan, N Korea, Iran and Cuba were not allowed to access some services and sites. The US-based open source repository SourceForge is an example.

It must be said though that these countries are also known for their own site-blocking capabilities.

As always on the World Wide Web, nothing is certain. But the evidences point out that it is the US government that is prohibiting access to these websites. These five countries are subject to US sanctions, and as such, Washington is restraining internet access to users in these ‘blacklisted’ countries. It is also worth saying that 4 out of 5 of these countries are the one “sponsoring terrorism” (North Korea having been removed in 2008 following bilateral negotiation on non-proliferation).

But US companies and the citizens of the countries mentioned are not the only ones affected by the sanctions.
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Press Freedom is a Luxury

Silenzio. Press Freedom under Fire in Italy, photo: Zingaro. I am a gipsy too/flickr

Silenzio. Press freedom under fire in Italy, photo: Zingaro. I am a gipsy too/flickr

Not many countries on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index 2009 have reason to celebrate. The index sees many countries like Iran and Israel, quite predictably, slip as a consequence of protests, wars and crackdowns in the past year.

While it may not be a surprise that reporters in conflict zones or in countries that are slipping deeper into authoritarianism face severe restrictions and harassment, countries that have always prided themselves on their freedom and openness are slipping down the ranks at an alarming rate.

As the accompanying analysis suggests, several EU members, most notably France and Italy, have slipped down the index and now find themselves ranked in places 43 and 49, respectively, well below countries like Jamaica, South Africa, Mali, Uruguay and Macedonia; countries that may not always have been associated with the concept of free press. In Berlusconi’s fiefdom this is no surprise, but why is France almost as badly off as Italy? And, one might add, why is Spain ranked just one below France at place 44? What is wrong with the grand old dames of Europe? » More

Italy: Double Standards

'Povera Patria', courtesy of Daniele Muscetta / flickr

'Povera Patria', courtesy of Daniele Muscetta / flickr

A dogmatic society ruled by organized criminals and an antidemocratic populist leader… Sounds like some post-Soviet state? Well actually, I mean Italy.

I don’t understand why the country continues to enjoy such a privileged place in the EU, the G-8, and among the Western elite generally. Italy shows a serious democratic deficit and presents some worrying features of failing governance. » More

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