European Federation of Journalists

Italy: EFJ joins FNSI in warning about the independence of PSM

Credits: Filippo Monteforte / AFP.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joins its Italian affiliate the Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (FNSI) in deploring the Italian government’s decision to lower the public broadcaster’s RAI license fee in 2024.

The budget plan for 2024, adopted on 16 October 2023, will decrease the license fee, the so-called Canone RAI,  from 90 euros per year to 70 euros, a cut of around 22%. The national public service media (PSM) RAI will now face a yearly 20 million euros deficit.

The Italian PSM is mainly funded by the license fee, and only to a lesser extent by advertising revenues. “The amount of the fee was initially reduced from 113.5 euros to 100 euros a year, finally settling at 90 euros, far below the average of the major EU countries. (…) Funding mechanisms are not sufficient to ensure the stability of the Italian PSM, nor are they effective in avoiding governmental discretionary power,” states the latest annual report of the EU Media Pluralism Monitor.

Minister of Infrastructure and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has been advocating for the complete abolition of the public broadcaster license. At the press conference following the government’s decision he told that the reduction of RAI’s license fee was “absolutely positive for tens of millions of Italian workers and retired people.”

According to FNSI, the Italian license fee is already amongst the lowest in Europe (on average, 103 euros per year). The gap that will be created by the new budget will be compensated almost totally by the government with taxpayers money.

Vittorio di Trapani, FNSI President, wrote on X that this decision will hand over control of RAI to the government. The union warns that the public broadcaster will be subject to stricter controls from the parliamentary majority, weakening further to its political and financial independence.

“The 20 million euros deficit per year is indeed a problem. But the biggest concern is that the government will have direct control over about 20% of RAI’s budget. The government will be therefore able to decide year by year the amount of money to give to the PSM. That could lead to big financial pressures on the PSM, that should be independent and granted transparent and stable financing. The European commission should take the Italian government’s decision under scrutiny,” di Trapani stated.

The FNSI says this change in budget is in clear violation of the European Parliament resolution of 20 October 2021, which requires stable, open, transparent, sustainable, and adequate funding of public broadcasters.

“This measure, which also goes against the provisions of the European Media Freedom Act, will weaken the independence of RAI, whose governance is already questionable, since the appointment of the company’s top management bodies involves direct influence from the government”, added Ricardo Gutiérrez, EFJ General Secretary. “The EFJ calls on the Italian authorities to reform the governance and the funding system of RAI, in order to guarantee the full independence of the PSM from political interference”.

This reform of the licence fee was not the only worrisome challenge that Rai has been facing. In August, the European Commission noted its concern after the departure of former CEO Carlo Fuortes, who was replaced by Roberto Sergio, a known supporter of the far-right party in place. Since this political appointment, certain TV programmes were suspended and several journalists and presenters resigned.