Associazione Politica Nazionale Lista Marco Pannella v. Italy, No. 66984/14, ECtHR (First Section), 31 August 2021
In August 2021, the First Section of the European Court of Human Rights rendered a judgment on freedom of expression and information pluralism in the television sector.
In the present case, Associazione Politica Nazionale Lista Marco Pannella complained that its representatives had not been invited to appear on the most important news programs broadcast by State television, whereas representatives of other political formations had taken part. The Lazio Regional Administrative Court (TAR), to which the matter was referred, quashed the decision by which the Communications Regulatory Authority (AGCOM) had deemed that Lista Marco Pannella had enjoyed sufficient speaking time, in comparison to other political forces without any representative in Parliament. Particularly, according to the administrative judge, it was not taken into account that, as a result of a political agreement, Lista Marco Pannella had nine elected representatives, albeit registered within the Democratic Party, and it could thus not be assimilated to a political force with no representatives chosen by the electoral body.
Following the refusal by AGCOM to take into account TAR’s argument that the applicant association constituted a “political subject” under national law, this latter applied to the European Court, claiming to be the victim of a violation of its right to freedom to impart political opinions and ideas in the media outside election periods.
The Court unanimously accepted the appellant’s complaints. Even though, unlike political communication programmes, political news programmes are not subject to a strict requirement of proportional representation of the views of each political formation but simply to a duty to represent different political views in a balanced manner, the practice adopted by AGCOM and TAR as to the application of the general principles on pluralism indicated that “political subjects” enjoy increased protection of their access to a specific category of political news programmes, which are subject to an “independent assessment” in terms of compliance with the principle of pluralism. According to the Court, this means that similar situations have to be treated in a similar manner, in accordance with the principle of equality, the aim being to ensure the proper conduct of political debate and hence pluralism of information.
In conclusion, the Strasbourg judges held that the measures taken by the domestic authorities to redress the imbalance resulting in the applicant association’s exclusion from political debate did not justify the restriction of the applicant’s right to freedom of expression protected under art. 10 ECHR.
(Comment by Marco Galimberti)