Can the public find out who owns the media through free access to the essential information required?
Neither media-specific nor corporate law reveal information on ownership of media outlets in Italy. Law No. 249 of 31 July 1997, which establishes the communication authority (AGCOM) and covers print, online and broadcast media, requires different levels disclosure depending on whether a media outlet is a registered company or not, with more stringent reporting requirements for those which are. For example the name and contact details of the owner only need be disclosed for media which are registered companies and more detailed information on the size of shareholdings is required for companies.
In terms of transparency of ownership, it is important therefore that a media outlet is registered as a company, although ultimate ownership cannot be established even for companies (see below). Furthermore, it is not possible for the public to access even the limited information that is disclosed to the media authority since not all of it is available online and the media authority exercises the “unchallengeable right” to identify who should and shouldn’t have access to its online register.
Under the Press Law, it is possible to identify the name and contact details of direct owners of print and online media, irrespective of whether the media outlet is a company or not, through information disclosed directly to the public. However beyond that, the range of information to be disclosed is too limited and does not include details on the ownership structure, beneficial ownership, size of shareholding, those with indirect control and/or connected companies.
Ownership information on media outlets which are publicly listed is in the public domain but is not easily interpreted by a non-specialist. The transparency reporting requirements for non-listed companies seem aimed exclusively at protecting company owners’ interests and not those of the non-shareholding public and do not provide the basic data required to identify the owner(s).
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