Monday marked the opening event of the long-awaited general consultation on publishing here in Rome. A selected audience of 60 people were in attendance for the roundtable, covered by more than a dozen reporters, and broadcast live on Radio Radicale.
This “open day” organized in Rome by the government to begin the discussion on their envisioned press reforms started out like any other debate about media and information.
However, just after the roundtable, Five Stars Senator Vito Crimi launched into one of his usual tirades against journalists, this time taking aim at il manifesto: “We must put a stop to the model that has been used so far, and create a new model for the revival of the industry, not just to keep it lazing around for a while longer.”
Crimi complained that there are some newspapers “receiving €6 million, which is outrageous—or those national newspapers that are practicing unfair competition. I’m trying to put forward a project to ensure that il manifesto can stand alone on the market. If il manifesto can’t stand alone on the market, then it should speak at the general consultation and tell us about the problems of standing on the market, but a newspaper that has €4.5 million in revenues and €3.5 million in state contributions is one that can’t keep up, compared to so many other newspapers that are not taking any contributions.”
Thus, our newspaper was made into the poster child for the government cuts.
Our unusual situation is simply incomprehensible to the cultural world of the Five Stars.
Our financial statements are public (found on our website, on every page, in the lower right corner), and our 50-year-long history speaks for itself, if one is curious enough to look it up.
il manifesto has been on newsstands without interruption since 1971, the only national newspaper that is self-managed and 100% owned by its employees.
Furthermore, it is a truly “communist” co-op, with 52 permanent employees, all working on regular contracts. It is the only daily newspaper in Europe which is living the left-wing ethos in every way.
It should be a source of pride for the Italian state, instead of being viewed as an embarrassment that needs to be “put on the market.” It is an unmistakable sign of true pluralism. Apart from the government grants, our newspaper is more “on the market” than any other: 90% of our revenues come from sales and subscriptions, and only 10% from advertising.
Our readers and subscribers are those who decide each day whether we’ll still put out a newspaper tomorrow. Crimi needn’t be worried about that.
We, however, are worried. At the roundtable, the FNSI press trade association, the Order of Journalists and the USPI press workers union asked the government for a “moratorium” on the exclusion of cooperative and non-profit newspapers from the pluralism fund. If the issue is still an item of serious debate at the general consultation, then there is still a chance to change this outcome, even though the cuts have been approved in the latest budget.
As Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in his introductory remarks: “We want an inclusive process. There is nothing worse than reforms that don’t take into account the needs and proposals of those who work in the sector.”
Later in the afternoon, in a meeting open to everyone and hosted by the FNSI, those who had been excluded from the government’s roundtable (and other consultations) decided to band together.
The cooperatives Culturmedia and ACI Communicazione, the publishers File and Usigrai, the Catholics of FISC, il manifesto, Radio Radicale, NGOs in the media field and the journalists’ union will work together on “joint coordinated proposals”—in the words of FNSI president Beppe Giulietti—while organizing parallel cultural events, different from those organized by the government. “We will build social and political alliances in favor of pluralism and journalists,” said FNSI secretary general Raffaele Lorusso.
Everyone at the meeting was well aware of the fact that the government’s decisions are more than just a threat to those 20 or so outlets that are being excluded from public funds—they are a threat that can strike anywhere, against anyone, from the newsrooms to ordinary citizens.
Thus, while the government’s Department of Publishing is setting up its open platform for citizens, many discussions are already happening outside of Crimi’s supervision.
Complaints are being filed with the Justice Ministry headed by Minister Bonafede, as well as with the INPGI department of the Ministry of Labor, which will soon receive a request for an ad hoc round table to discuss how to manage the inevitable state of crisis that the media outlets affected by the cuts will face.
A multi-stage process
Promising “a process that would start with the citizens and end with the citizens, to give them accurate, free and transparent information,” Crimi explained, in his address at the start of the general consultation on publishing, that the government has planned a public discussion with five themes, to take place over four day-long events.
The five thematic areas are press agencies, journalists, publishing, the market and citizens. By April, all citizens will be able to put forward proposals on the website of the Department for Publishing. The first themed public meetings will be organized in May. In June, there will be a public debate over two days in Turin.
During the summer, the government plans to combine the proposals received in order to present new draft laws before Parliament by September.
A ‘level playing field’ and early retirement
In his address, Andrea Riffeser Monti, the president of the editors’ association FIEG, brought some proposals from the large publishers to the government’s attention:
- Double the funds for early retirement, in order to hire young people and reduce staff costs;
- Require the payment of royalties for press review TV shows, as well as for newspapers available in bars;
- Require equal coverage before elections, applied to daily newspapers as well;
- Support newsstands by recognizing them as a “public service,” which can include “journalists who work in the kiosks, in direct contact with the citizens”;
- Require that public companies do not discriminate when advertising in the press.
‘Data’ is the gateway to the future
Giovanna Maggioni, the head of the UPA (advertisers association) and the only woman at the round table, said that, ever since 2008, “the printing industry has lost two-thirds of its income” from advertisers, and that today, “advertising is mainly the management of data.”
She added that “Google and Facebook alone account for one quarter of the investments in the sector.”
Publishers should offer companies “brand safety,” transparency regarding user interactions and serious data analysis regarding their users.
Putting jobs front and center
According to FNSI secretary general Raffaele Lorusso, “the central issue must be jobs. We can’t talk about information without talking about quality jobs, as opposed to precariousness. Without regular jobs, the system cannot be saved. We need to involve lawyers, professionals, researchers to develop labor standards that would be valid for the future as well.”
FNSI president Beppe Giulietti made a powerful critique of the current tendency to cut out the intermediaries: “When you want to eliminate the mediators, the intermediary institutions, you’re bypassing the Constitution without a referendum.”