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Why the Ordine dei Giornalisti should be abolished

May 4, 2011

Before reading this article, make sure you know what the Ordine dei Giornalisti is and what it does, by clicking here.

Back in 1997, the Italian Radical Party was able to gather enough signatures to propose a referendum on the abolition of the Ordine dei Giornalisti (ODG). The referendum failed to reach the quorum, but it triggered a heated debate on whether the ODG should be abolished or not. The debate actually dates back to the 1940s, when the Federazione della Stampa decided to keep the 1928 fascist law. In 1945, Luigi Einaudi, one of the most famous Italian journalists and second President of the Republic, wrote that “the mandatory register would resurrect castes and closed corporations, inclined to the wills of tyrants and arch-enemies of young people, rebels and non-conformists.”[1]

A few months before the referendum in 1997, a heated debate took place on the pages of Il Sole 24 Ore, Italy’s most influent financial newspapers, where two journalists – Franco Abruzzo and Vincenzo Zeno Zencovich – confronted each other; the former in support of the ODG, the latter against it. As he reiterated later in time, Abruzzo claimed back then that the repeal of the law 69/1963 would abolish journalism codes of ethics and would leave journalists without any protection, under the influence of politicians and economic powers. According to Abruzzo, without the ODG, journalists would be subject to article 2105 of the Civil Code, whereby they would be considered as simple employees loyal to their companies, while journalists must be absolutely independent.[2]

According to Zeno Zencovich, Abruzzo’s claims are a mere defense of the interests of journalists, not of society itself. The fact that the ODG protects the ethical integrity of professional journalists is not a valid argument against its abolition. In fact, “the Ordine dei Giornalisti is an all-Italian peculiarity,” Zeno Zencovich says, and it is not possible that in the rest of the world, where there are no corporatist organizations such as ours, journalism moral dignity is not granted.[3] On the contrary, one might add, in countries such as the United States and the UK, where there is no such thing as the ODG, journalism ethics are respected much more than in Italy, where newspapers are often organs of political parties – anything but the watchdog of power.

Zeno Zencovich claims that the Ordine exercises a monopoly on journalism practice, by regulating people’s access to it. The ODG, as Einaudi debated as back as 1945, creates a closed caste that is “particularly harmful for society,”[4] because it hampers information and communication. The ODG, as Simone Cosimi argued over and over during our interview, wants to maintain the power to say who is a journalist and who is not. But “a journalist is a journalist for what he does, not for his enrollment in the Albo” – the mandatory ODG register of all practicing Italian journalists.[5] Moreover, today in Italy, many people – experts, professors, scientists, politicians, etc. – write articles, editorials, in-depth analysis for newspapers, radio and TV channels without being members of the ODG. Can they be denied access to the media? Of course not, because that would go against article 21 of the Italian Constitution. However, their collaborations are not formally recognized as “professional” by the Ordine and those people, as occasional contributors, are not protected by the organization.

The ODG, a corporation created during fascism in 1928, is completely obsolete in today’s media environment. It fails to understand the changes of journalism and society. Does it really make sense that a state-recognized corporatist organization such as the Ordine has the power to decide who can do professional reporting, when, with the Internet, anyone can pass on information? Not really, as the rise of citizen journalism proves. Today, any common citizen can denounce injustice and report events with amateur, yet high quality, devices. In Italy, this is proven by websites such as YouReporter.it and Fainotizia.it. Moreover, many specialized blogs are maintained by experts who are not enrolled in the OGD register, but who are even more knowledgeable than professional journalists lacking expertise on particular subjects.

Moreover, as Simone Cosimi said, the Ordine does not facilitate access to the media for young people. In order to become full-time professionals, aspiring journalists must first enroll in the so-called Registro dei Praticanti – the Trainee’s Register. Trainees must be at least 18 and they must work for 18 months in a daily, a magazine, a radio or TV channel, or in a press agency. After that, they are allowed to take the exam to become professionisti.

As of today, in Italy, internships do not usually last for 18 months – they last significantly less than that. Finding a journalism apprenticeship is extremely hard, because many news organizations have declared the state of crisis and they are not allowed, by law, to hire any new journalist, not even interns. Moreover, young people are (almost) never paid. This means that, in order to get a proper apprenticeship, they must live off of their parents.

In order to overcome all these obstacles, young aspiring journalists are forced to attend those Journalism Schools that are formally recognized by the Ordine.[6] Today, this is the only way to access the industry and become a professional journalist. For the ODG, in fact, the two-year program offered in one of these quite expensive J-Schools substitutes the so-called praticantato (apprenticeship) and allows young people to directly access the ODG state-recognized exam to become professionisti.

This system is wrong. By forcing students to attend one of its Journalism Schools, the ODG gets in the way of one of society’s highest values: diversity. By imposing one educational method, the Ordine limits the possibility of would-be journalists to acquire diverse mentalities and competencies by studying in different schools and different countries. Moreover, it denies economically destitute people to become professionals, as many parents can’t afford to send their kids to those quite expensive J-Schools.

An argument in favor of the Ordine could be: in Italy there are the Order of Architects, the Order of Doctors, the Order of Lawyers. Why, then, is there such a backlash against the Order of Journalists? The thing is that, in order to become doctors, lawyers and architects, college degrees and master degrees are required. To become a professional journalist, instead, the ODG doesn’t even require a college diploma. And why should it, after all? The majority of yesterday’s journalists have never gone to Journalism school. Medicine, law and architecture do require a certain type of expertise. A college diploma is not one of journalism’s absolute requirements.

Finally, the Ordine doesn’t recognize – therefore, protect – new media jobs, such as those of content manager, web editor and freelance journalist. The web is still much undervalued by the ODG. Is this not dangerous for an organization that, in fact, controls journalism in Italy? Even though its advocates argue it is not true, the Ordine does limit freedom of speech and expression as stated in Article 21 of the Italian Constitution, which says that “Everybody has the right to freely manifest his thought through word of mouth, through writing and any other means of communication. The press cannot be subject to authorizations and censorship.” What is the ODG if not a form of authorization and censorship?


[1] Luigi Einaudi, Il Buongoverno (Roma: Laterza, 1973) vol. II, 627-629.

[2] Franco Abruzzo, “Giornalisti, Futuro da Yes-Man Se Sparisce l’Albo,” Il Sole 24 Ore, 5 Jan. 2000 http://www.francoabruzzo.it/document.asp?DID=3210

[3] Vincenzo Zeno Zencovich, “Abolire l’Ordine dei Giornalisti,” Il Foglio dei Fogli, 13 Jan. 1997: 3. www.giur.uniroma3.it/materiale/docenti/zeno/materiale/Commenti/24.pdf

[4] Zeno Zencovich 3.

[5] Zeno Zencovich 3.

[6] A list of these schools can be found on the ODG website, http://www.odg.it/content/elenco-scuole-giornalismo

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