The Italian Communications Authority and the Panzironi saga: An unprecedented six-month suspension for two broadcasters that hosted Mr. Panzironi’s special on “what they haven’t told you about coronavirus”

Through Resolutions No. 152/20/CONS and 153/20/CONS, the Italian Communications Authority (“AGCOM”) issued an unprecedented six-month suspension for two television broadcasters for hosting Adriano Panzironi’s program “Il Cerca Salute,” which included a segment on “what they haven’t told you about coronavirus.” AGCOM ascertained the — particularly serious — infringement of articles 3 and 36-bis, para. 1, let. c) No. 3, of Legislative Decree No. 177/2005, which recites as follows: “Audiovisual commercial communications provided by audiovisual media service providers subject to Italian jurisdiction must not encourage behaviors prejudicial to health and safety.

In particular, AGCOM ascertained that the programs aired by the broadcasters disseminated commercial and non-commercial contents that could potentially endanger the health of consumers by inducing them to underestimate the potential risks associated with COVID-19 and could also generate the false belief that COVID-19 could be treated or prevented with non-therapeutic measures, particularly nutritional supplements. As a consequence, the aired contents, clearly associated with the marketing of “Life 120” supplements, were capable of reducing users’ awareness and responsibility with regard to health risks, which in turn could be detrimental to their health.

AGCOM determined that the communication method adopted was structured as follows: On one hand, Mr. Panzironi praised the Life 120 lifestyle (an allegedly healthy lifestyle in which nutritional supplements play a key role) and on the other, he fiercely criticized the teachings of official (or traditional) medicine. All of the above was then corroborated by the testimonials of “patients” who allegedly cured their serious diseases by following the advertised Life 120 lifestyle. The format included advertising for specific supplements marketed by Mr. Panzironi’s companies.

The broadcasters argued that the Italian Constitution protects the right to diverse and complete information and therefore it was permissible to air a scientific comparison of different opinions. AGCOM dismissed such arguments, ruling that “in the case at hand […] the scientific merit of the opinions expressed [is lacking].” In fact, Mr. Panzironi does not hold any scientific title and disseminated theories based on non-scientific information. An additional element that was considered in this respect was the true purpose of the communication method used in the programs, i.e., the commercial intent served by the programs. Such a promotional purpose strongly curtails the possibility of considering such programs as falling under the constitutional umbrella of freedom of expression of scientific thought.

The nature of the measure adopted by AGCOM, consisting of a six-month suspension, reflects its assessment of the practices as “particularly serious,” pursuant to article 59, para. 9 of Legislative Decree No. 177/2005, given the emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 20, 2020 the Regional Administrative Court of Lazio (Tribunale Amministrativo Regionale – Lazio) has adopted an interim decision suspending AGCOM’S Resolution No. 153/20/CONS on an urgency basis. By this decision, one of the two broadcasters hit by the suspension (Mediacom s.r.l.) may now resume its activities, albeit without airing any content related to Mr. Panzironi’s program. This decision was adopted on an urgency basis, and on May 8, 2020 the Administrative Court will decide whether to confirm or revoke the suspension of AGCOM’S Resolution No. 153/20/CONS.

Follow us on