The Problem of the Ethics in the Advertising in the Information Society: the Italian Experience

Diego Rispoli


In Italy advertising have a prominent role in the mass communication sector. During the year 1996, advertising investments concerning “classical” mass-media (press, radio, TV, movies and billposting) was ItL. 11.000 mlds. These investments are allocated as follow: 45% of the profits to the press; 40% of the public TV licensee proceeds; 100% of the private TV and Radio broadcast. For the 1997 is expected a positive trend amounting to 8%.

Nevertheless, this hundred-year old advertising communication paradigm is declining. Now advertising is trying to adjust itself to the new media and then to the Information Society, without abandoning old media where it is deep-roothed.

Advertising is actually changing its nature and shape also because it look at the growing ‘ipermedial’ environment. The very complex communicative process which involves simultaneously both medium, message, utterer and hearer is the highest level in the media system merging and also their convergence in the Information Society.

Therefore advertising seems addressed in carry out an important role not only with traditional media but also with new media, although it is not clear what will be its role and its economic impact. Moreover, in Italy is expected a 6-7 years coexistence among these old and new media.

The merging between telecommunication and electronic firms, on the one hand, and telecommunication firms and TV and Radio broadcasts, on the other hand, will bring about both advertisment subject matter changes and about new multimedia economical concentration.

The Information Society growth and the telecommunication technologies huge development is making the advertising market without frontiers. Therefore advertisment have to be regulate no longer into the specific national frame but into the wide international framework.

In this way, the persuasion phenomenon become interactive and transnational. For this we need to valuate not only advertisment technique but especially the value patterns expressed with (and by means of) the advertisment. This last point raise ethical questions also in connection with the pictures omnipresence which eliminate people’s critical analysis and give emphasis to the superficial aspects of the reality. Advertisment structural qualitative changes are carrying a new ethical dimension.

Turbulent relationship between societies basic values, typical in the advanced one, have gave life to a permanent conflict amongst opposed axiologies. These find in the advertisment the most important field where stand out communcation and communication values crisis.

Some people think advertising have immoral connotations, others think it is a warped use of advertising do it an amoral means. This last is the Pontificial Council for Social Communication side, issued in a 1997 paper on the ethics in advertising.

Some solicitations to advertising and media workers for a better care in the social-ethical aspects are the result of the information society placing again of the communication ‘third subject’, namely the citizen-user. Now in the advertising communicative channel the citizen-user is seen as the one’s own needs holder.

Notwithstanding the presence of a code of advertising practice and deontological codes in Italy, a large stress have the ‘guarantee offices’ carried out by high level administrative-independent authorities.

In this way, the Italian Law has issued a renewed and widened Authority for Communication from the old Authority for Press, Radio and Tv. The new Authority is an agency for fair and moderate warranty from media operators, and also that Authority has the power in harmonize between people’s free opinion rights and private economic enterprise rights.

This new Italian Authority is able not only in using coercive means but also in functioning as intermediary amongst different or opponent interests; in this way the Authority undertake to do the ‘moral suasion’ for offer a quick and opportune solutions to the very important person’s fundamental values safeguarding. English Translation by Antonio Marturano