Commentary. Italy spends less per capita on media contributions than France, the UK, Germany and the US. This remnant is what the current retaliatory proposal by the Lega and the 5 Stars wants to eliminate altogether.

The end of information as a public good

The Lega and the 5 Stars’ intention to cancel all public contributions to publishing, which support media outlets discussing ideas, local media and publications in minority languages, ​​is effectively a return to the 19th century. In Victorian Britain, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Liberal George Lewis, saw the free market as an instrument of control over opinions not in line with those of the government. Compared to Di Maio and Salvini, Lewis was more honest in his approach. He admitted that the market does not align with the readers’ interests—as is being claimed by the “populists” who erroneously identify “the people” with “the market”—but rather “the preferences of advertisers.”

Back then, governments, without admitting so, would use the market for a completely different purpose: to weaken, or outright destroy, the print media of the working class, and, in general, any media that was critical of the capitalism and authoritarian liberalism of the era. In an indirect way, the oligopolists in the industry and the advertisers who ultimately decided the success of a publication acquired the additional power to decide who could publish a newspaper and what a newspaper should or should not publish. Today, in a different era but with the same ideological virulence, those in power want to attack anti-racist and anti-capitalist voices of every cultural orientation.

After World War II, a new sensibility developed, both in Europe and in the United States: the notion that protecting information and independent cultural production was in the general interest, as a “non-rival” and not exclusive public good. This means that a person watching a TV program or reading a story or an article does not impede anyone else from doing so, because, once it is in the public domain, the content is accessible to everyone. This orientation, consolidated by legislation passed since the beginning of the ‘70s, has been adopted because such benefits cannot be measured solely as a function of the costs of producing a newspaper, a radio or a TV show. If by reading an article, watching a video clip or listening to a radio broadcast, a citizen could gain a critical awareness of current events and would be more likely to become engaged, then it is in the public interest to support informational pluralism.

These principles have been adopted in order to rebalance a market that has historically been characterized by a prevalence of decidedly “non-pure” publishers, in intentions and otherwise—such as the Italian market, subject to oligopolistic concentrations that have grown to an even more unprecedented size today, and also featuring an independent media that is less widespread, but still rooted in the territories and which has historically been the voice of recognized political orientations.

Over the last 50 years, the need to protect pluralism and rebalance the market has led France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal and Germany to adopt legislation guaranteeing such protections. France and Italy currently have a mixed model: the private media receive state contributions that are lower than the fees and funding for state-owned media, funds which private outlets must combine with proceeds from advertising and other commercial activities. State support has been set up through both indirect and direct channels. After the various reforms, which have restricted access to state funds due to legal violations in 13 particular cases (for example, in the case of Avanti), there is no longer any significant indirect state aid in our country, while direct state contributions have been limited to 48 outlets, for a total sum of €60 million per year.

If we compare the current official data on public funding for publishers in Italy, France, Germany, the UK and the United States, Italy is in next-to-last place in terms of the total public contributions, which have already been drastically reduced, and in last place in terms of per capita expenditure (just €43). This remnant is what the current retaliatory proposal by the Lega and the 5 Stars wants to eliminate altogether, without even waiting for the Lotti reform to enter into force in 2019, which has already caused profound changes in the sector since 2017.

The idea is that everything should go back to being hostage to the market. Meanwhile, the oligopolies are sending their thanks for this favor that they have been expecting ever since the election campaign, and which is now close to becoming reality.

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