Research Fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
This year has been marked by a bitter national election campaign, discussions about fake news, and continuing disruption in the media landscape.
Few expected the March 2018 Italian elections to lead to a decisive political outcome and the campaign was marked by fears about the rise of populism and potential political conflict. Immigration became a major topic for discussion moving up the agenda in February with the shootings of six people of African origin in the city of Macerata by a far-right extremist. Other episodes of political violence contributed to the harsh climate in which the campaign took place.
Pre-existing anti-establishment and anti-immigration sentiments have also been fuelled by the spread of misinformation. False information was used, for example, to misrepresent immigrants’ involvement in major and minor crimes and to accuse Italian politicians of nepotism. A journalistic investigation by BuzzFeed on a network of Italian websites and social media pages that spread nationalistic rhetoric, anti-migrant content, and misinformation resulted in Facebook shutting down several of these pages.1 In 2017, the President of the Italian Parliament organised official initiatives to fight misinformation, while the Government launched an online service to allow citizens to report fake news to the Italian postal police. The latter initiative has triggered discussions on who should decide what information is true or false.2
While revenues in the broadcasting sector started to rise again after some years of decline, in September 2017 newspaper sales showed a 11% reduction year-on-year.3 After a series of further consolidation moves, two publishing groups share the leadership of the newspaper market: GEDI, which publishes La Repubblica and La Stampa, in addition to several local newspapers and radio stations; and RCS Mediagroup, which publishes Il Corriere della Sera, La Gazzetta dello Sport, and other local newspapers in Italy, in addition to El Mundo and Marca in Spain. After years of competition in the pay-TV market, in March 2018 Berlusconi’s Mediaset and Murdoch’s Sky Italia reached an agreement that includes the joint distribution of entertainment content on their pay-per-view platforms and free-to-air TV channels.
The online news market is still dominated by legacy players, but this year some digital-born outlets have started to make more impact. The top news brands in terms of online reach are those of the main newspapers (La Repubblica, Il Corriere della Sera, and Il Fatto Quotidiano) and the main TV broadcasters (the Mediaset’s TgCom24.it, SkyTg24, and the public broadcaster’s RaiNews.it). The website of the main Italian news agency, ANSA, has grown and reached the third position in the Italian ranking. This is an unusual example of news agency developing a direct consumer offer and attracting substantial online reach.
RAI’s online news service has also improved its position, but is still far from matching the high levels of reach it achieves on television. Internal disagreements on the plan to reform the public broadcaster’s news services have led to the resignations of RAI’s top managers and are still slowing down the expected launch of a new news website.
Impressive results have also been accomplished by newspapers focusing on local news, such as Il Messaggero (7%) and Quotidiano.net (7%). The most relevant change in the Italian online ranking is the growth of the digital-born outlet Fanpage (11%). In addition to its effective use of social media for distributing both hard and soft news content, Fanpage gained attention in February for its investigative reporting on the waste-dumping business, which led Italian authorities to investigate several local politicians and businessmen.4
This year, the trend towards pay models for online news from Italian newspapers has advanced further. In early 2016, Il Corriere della Sera was the first, among the main Italian general-interest newspapers, to launch a metered paywall. In late 2017, La Repubblica adopted a freemium model. Now many relevant Italian newspapers, including Il Fatto Quotidiano, La Stampa, and Il Messaggero, are adopting some form of pay models for their online news. Despite the moves by publishers, our data show the proportion of people paying for online news remains static at 12%.
Newspaper readership continues to fall steadily while television news viewership has been more stable than in many other countries. Smartphones continue to be more important with over half of our sample (56%) using them for news each week.
The debate and the concerns on fake news may help explain relatively low trust — a long-standing trend that is mainly attributable to the partisan nature of many Italian news outlets. Brands that are most trusted — like the Italian main news agency ANSA, the business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, and Sky Italia’s newscast SkyTG24 — are generally those that are known for lower levels of politicisation.
- https://www.buzzfeed.com/albertonardelli/one-of-the-biggest-alternative-media-networks-in-italy-is?utm_term=.vak4X6JGg0#.suwwBzy9Zk; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/24/world/europe/italy-election-fake-news.html ↩
- http://www.primaonline.it/2017/06/27/258736/al-via-lindagine-conoscitiva-della-commissione-internet-sulle-fake-news; http://www.lastampa.it/2017/04/20/tecnologia/news/venerd-alla-camera-il-tavolo-di-lavoro-sulle-fake-news-voluto-dalla-boldrini-7bntcWmsDGguB8LLVl1vTK/pagina.html; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/19/italians-asked-report-fake-news-police-run-up-election ↩
- https://www.agcom.it/osservatorio-sulle-comunicazioni ↩