Il Sottosegretario alla Conferenza OCSE “Tackling disinformation: Strengthening democracy through information integrity”

14 novembre 2023


It is perhaps difficult to imagine how this conference could fall at a more dramatic moment. We have been discussing topics which are becoming more and more urgent almost by the day. At the same time the current international events underline the need to tackle them by working together: governments, stakeholders, civil society.

Ensuring information integrity and a plural and high-quality media ecosystem is not only a precondition for our democracies but also a matter of particular and personal concern to me. I am a journalist myself; I collaborated with a daily newspaper, and I worked in broadcasting for twenty years. Prior to my appointment as Undersecretary of State responsible for information and publishing, I was the Chairman of the Parliamentary Commission for the General Guidance and Supervision of the radio and television public national broadcasting company from 2018 to 2022.

The fact that I am here today is a sign of the times: in the past press and information were just national issues. Experience in today’s digital environment has taught us that it is necessary to look beyond national borders in this sector too. Recognising this, the European Media Freedom Act, when approved, will see the press and the information sector become part of the EU single market. Firstly, I would like to announce that Italy has joined the steering group of the Dis/Mis Resource Hub and is making a financial contribution.

This conference is an opportunity for me to confirm Italy’s commitment to continue working in this direction, pushing forward the statements of the Bonn communiqué during the Italian G7 Presidency. We will work together with the OECD to develop a common framework to tackle disinformation and strengthen information integrity. Let me outline some ideas. I believe that the first way forward is a strong professional media system and quality journalism.

I am worried about the growing lack of public confidence in journalism. Journalists have historically been trusted and valued sources of information. In recent years, the spread of mis and disinformation- often accompanied by rhetoric encouraging distrust of the news media - has fostered peoples' mistrust in journalists.

At the same time, journalists must do their share of work. They shouldn’t surrender to the temptation of news sensationalism for the purpose of click baiting or audience numbers. They shouldn’t sacrifice accuracy for speed, responding to the pressure to publish (this is a big problem of the digital era).

As policy makers, we need to do everything we can to help journalists to pursue truth, fairness, accuracy and transparency even in the digital environment, where professional journalists sometimes seem to fight with everyday users.

I want to say a few words about journalists covering conflicts because they carry out a crucial public interest mission as they gather and report reliable information. This mission is even more important in the current situation in which user generated content has become an essential part of the storytelling not only in the social network but also in the newsroom. Any content must always be authenticated, and this might include anything from speaking to the individual who filmed the content to using a range of more sophisticated techniques such as geo-location and cross-referencing satellite imagery.

I am very concerned about the sustainability of the professional information media today, especially compared to the power and the digital advertising revenues of the big platforms. Governments need to support the innovation and the digital transformation of the information media sector and promote a favourable environment for quality journalism.

There are Governments, like Italy, which support pluralism and professional media providers economically. Let me clarify that this has nothing to do with editorial control of the media by the State. Financial contribution is open to every professional media and the minimum eligibility criteria to access the contributions are objective. As it has been underlined during this conference, in our democracies there’s no place for a Ministry of Truth. Well, I believe that the criteria to access public contributions should be based around the accuracy and the reliability of the information product and the correct recognition of the importance of the work of the journalists. For example, increasing the minimum number of professional journalists employed by publishing companies could be a way to guarantee the good checking of sources.

At the same time, it is important that journalists have a full-time permanent contract and a fair salary. It is also important for governments to encourage innovative media products and investments in new contents and new technology. I introduced some of these criteria in the recent Italian reform concerning public contributions to the press agencies.

In this reform, I have also included a specific commitment to countering the spread of fake news. Major news agencies (called “agencies of national relevance”) which provide their services to public administrations, must set up an independent advisor (or advisory body) with the task of helping and supporting the editor and the journalists in fact-checking and in countering the spread of fake news.

It is hard to find a balance between the measures to tackle disinformation and the protection of freedom of expression; we must implement measures that are proportionate and compatible with the principles of our democracies. The debate in our societies must remain open, free and plural.

In this respect, Italy believes more in strengthening whole-of-society resilience to disinformation rather than in removing or blocking sources and contents. This purpose becomes more difficult to follow in the current international situation because we find ourselves in an information war in which the hostile propaganda has become more aggressive.

I nevertheless reaffirm the primacy of policy initiatives that strengthen the media and information literacy of citizens, for example through communication campaigns. My department will collaborate with several leading Universities for the issuing of guidelines to support the effectiveness of institutional communication in this field.

Media and information literacy must start from schools. I personally visit schools, as part of initiatives organised by the largest newspapers and periodicals, and I speak to the students about the importance of media awareness, the threat of fake news and of deep fake in the digital environment as well as about the overall importance of journalistic content. I strongly believe in the importance of these initiatives to create generations of critical thinkers and informed citizens.

The G7 Presidency will provide Italy with the opportunity to champion the G7 Agenda concerning AI with a focus on information integrity. This conference - and the Dis/Mis Resource Hub initiative itself - has explored the potential of AI to accelerate the spread of both mis- and disinformation and to exacerbate the ongoing challenge of finding information we can trust online. On the other hand, we also learned that there are AI tools which can be used against disinformation.

AI is a central issue in Italy’s agenda. I’ve recently set up a Committee of Experts with the task of studying both risks and opportunities of AI in the publishing and information sector. It is designed so that the study and exchange of ideas among stakeholders and leaders in the sector might contribute to finding shared European and international policies which protect all the varied interests involved.

These are just a few ideas to share and go into in more detail. I strongly propose that during Italy’s Presidency of the G7 the exchange and encouragement of best practices becomes a real priority.

Barachini , OCSE , Disinformazione
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