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How to be a journalist in Italy: the debate around the Ordine dei Giornalisti

How to be a journalist in Italy: the debate around the Ordine dei Giornalisti

Liberalization of professional services is on the agenda of the Italian technocrat Mario Monti's government, as part of the wider plans to boost economy, from energy to transport.

Journalists appear to be amongst the professions listed in the regulation reform. Speculations about the alleged changes - the reform bill is a draft and hasn't been approved yet - that will involve the Ordine dei Giornalisti, the professional state-approved body representing Italian journalists, have raised concerns within the profession. It has also provided a boost to reinvigorate the long-time ongoing debate about the possibility of the abolition of the "extraordinary league of journalists".

The state-regulated body defines who, after passing an exam, can officially be called a journalist and has the power of sanction these people in case of ethical misconduct that can lead to their removal from the official journalists' list and a ban on exercising the profession.

The Ordine dei Giornalisti is quite an anomaly within the international journalism landscape and raises questions about state regulation in opposition to a self-regulated approach.

But how does access to the journalistic profession in Italy actually work, and is the Ordine really effective?

The online-only paper Linkiesta published a series of clear infographics illustrating the "disorganization of the journalist organization" (in Italian dis-ordine).

The journalists registered on official national list are 110,000. Of these 64.58% are members of the Pubblicisti register and 25.04% of the Professionisti.

'Professionisti' are the ones who exercise the profession "exclusively and continuously" while the 'pubblicisti' are those who exercise mainly other professions, for example laywers or doctors who write on thematic journals or as experts on specific issues.

However this distinction often doesn't reflect the reality of the situation as many 'pubblicisti' are just full-time journalists who haven't been able to be hired as trainees and do the official exam after the 18 month period of training necessary to be admitted to the exam.

It's worth noting, as the article reported, that the exam, which consists of a written and an oral part, has been taken on computers only from 2009, while before participants used typewriters.

The remaining 10,38% is divided between a "special list", trainee and foreign journalists.

To be member of the Ordine, doesn't imply any guarantee on a contract level, as the number of journalists hired under the official national collective agreement were just 21,269 in 2010.

The existence of a state-regulated list has been judged completely useless by some commentators, outside and inside the journalistic category.

Federico Rampini, one of the most authoritative names of the national daily Repubblica and a long-experienced foreign correspondent now based in New York, recently wrote on Micromega a very thorough article about the Ordine's worthlessness.

"I've been registered with the Ordine since 1982, when I passed an exam which had nothing to do with any knowledge and ability I needed to be a journalist", he wrote. In 24 years the Ordine hasn't proven useful for any of the purposes it's supposed to fulfil for, Rampini argues. No serious barriers have been placed against the threats to press freedom and news accountability which came from the tangle between media, politics and economic powers. "I can't remember any episode of "misinformation" - lies, false news, biased news - which has been revealed and punished with the due severity", he added.

Some claim that the Ordine is just a lobby interested just in safeguarding the interests of the profession.

The mere existence of a code of conduct and of a body intended to punish any violation does not necessarily mean that the sanction has an effect on the reputation and credibility the press holds amongst the public. A strong democracy needs a strong and credible press and the mere existence of a state-regulated body does not guarantee it.

Sources: Reuters, EW, Corriere della Sera, Linkiesta, Micromega



Federica Cherubini


2012-01-20 16:20

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