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Is Press Freedom about to be Limited in Italy?

Not too long ago, in fact just after Berlusconi won the elections, I spoke to a journalist who works for a major Italian newspaper, and this journalist told me that he and many of his colleagues were worrying about clamp downs on press freedom in Italy.

Well, it’s looking as though this hack’s fears were well grounded, and just recently an Italian TV presenter who runs an political chat show called Anno Zero has been accused of bringing the Italian national broadcaster RAI into disrepute.

What apparently happened, and I, alas, missed this controversial chat show, was that Michele Santoro, the journalist who runs the Genova chat show gave some airtime to the ever critical Beppe Grillo. The Grillo speech which was shown included an attack on journalists, Italy’s president and doctors .

The attack on the president which was considered oh so insidious was basically that Napolitano, the President of Italy, should be the president of the country, and not of the political parties that run the country. Grillo, never one to hold back, insinuated that Napolitano did not allow the referendum on Italy’s electoral system to go ahead before the general elections because he was in league with the politicos. The irascible comic from Genova came up with rather a crude analogy, as he stated that holding the elections before having held the election was like putting a condom on after having had sex.

After having said naughty things about the president, good old Beppe went on to say that he wanted to see a newspaper paid for by those who read it, not by certain ‘sponsors’. This is a direct reference to the fact that newspapers in Italy have always been the voice of the controlling power mongers, and not, as in other countries, controlled by those who simply wish the make lots of cash from providing a news service – read Murdoch.

Grillo also points out that the Italian journalists’ association, which was set up back in Mussolini’s day, is more of an organisation designed to keep journalist in check than to promote the freedom of the press. The comic also mentioned one Beppe Alfano an Italian journalist who met his fate, reputedly, at the hands of the mafia.

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Last but by no means least came Grillo’s assault on Italy’s doctors. Well, one in particular, a certain Umberto Veronesi, who also doubles as a politician and is very well regarded in Italy. However, Grillo and a group of Italian skin specialists are not too happy with Veronesi because of his public confirmation that the waste burning incinerators that Italy is proposing to install present no threat to public health. Grillo and the specialists appear to have evidence to the contrary, and so Grillo has concluded that Veronesi is in the pocket of the political and corporate Italian establishment.

Good old Beppe has ruffled quite a few feathers, and Santoro just went and poured salt onto the disturbed feathers by giving Grillo’s insinuation national air time. Claudio Petruccioli, none other than the president of the Italian Rai state TV channels, was one of those to have accused Santoro of having acted shamefully.  Not a great surprise when you know that presidents of Italy’s state TV are just about always nominated by the government in power at the time. Petruccioli was one of Prodi’s boys, but it looks as though he’s trying to say that he’s Berlusco friendly too, possibly in the hope of hanging on to his job a little longer.

All these shenanigans would appear to point towards a likely clamp down on press freedom in Italy, again, and Michele Santoro will quite possibly be removed from TV, as he was during Belusconi’s last reign. Santoro probably knows what is in store for him, so one may consider the controversial episode of Anno Zero as being something of a swan song.

Incidentally, the Italian Observatory on Legality and Rights (in Italian) has pointed out that RAI president Claudio Petruccioli’s overreacted somewhat, and it went on to say that potential defamation should be challenged by legal means, and not by a journalist’s boss.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this latest tempest in a teacup and writing more when the outcome, such as it may be, becomes clearer.

The political control of the media in Italy does stink a little of the exploitation of the media as propaganda machines during the rule of despots and dictators, such as during Mussolini’s reign, for example.

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