Melon Farmers Original Version

Media Control in Italy

Silvio Berlusconi's media empire under fire

11th July

Update: Italy Gagged...

24 hour news strike over Berlusconi's press gag law

Friday saw a day without newspapers in Italy as reporters and editors went on a 24-hour strike. They were joined by radio, TV and some internet journalists.

The action was over a parliamentary bill proposing a law that Silvio Berlusconi's government claims safeguards privacy. Most of Italy's editors, judges and prosecutors say it is intended to shield politicians, and particularly the prime minister, whose career has been ridden with financial and sexual scandals.

The so-called gagging law would curb the ability of police and prosecutors to record phone conversations and plant listening devices. It would also stop journalists publishing the resulting transcripts. Investigators seeking to listen in on a suspect would need permission from three judges. Regardless of circumstances, eavesdropping warrants would expire after 75 days, after which they must be renewed every three days.

The National Magistrates' Association said it had very serious consequences: The fight against crime will be much more difficult for police and investigating magistrates, while the administration of justice will be overwhelmed by bureaucratic demands that will make the operation of the system objectively impossible.

The bill excludes mafia and terrorism investigations. But the police unions say it would cripple inquiries into offences such as moneylending and drug-trafficking which frequently lead investigators to organised criminals and terrorists.

The media would only be able to publish a summary of the findings of an investigation after it had ended. While that may be no more onerous a restriction than applies in Britain, the editor of Italy's biggest-selling daily, Corriere della Sera, Ferruccio de Bortoli, argues it is a bill tailor-made to shield members of the government from unwelcome investigation .

The gagging law is to enter the last stage of its parliamentary journey on July 29.


4th July

Update: Premier Privacy...

Berlusconi's press gag law under widespread fire

More than 1,000 Italian journalists gathered in Rome to protest against a law that curbs police wiretaps and imposes fines on news organisations that publish transcripts.

The prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, claims the new rules are needed to protect privacy.

The Italian National Press Federation has called a strike for 9 July in protest.

Opposition parties accuse Berlusconi of trying to cover up corruption with a tailor-made law to shield him from prosecution while in office.

The US justice department has expressed concern over the law's effect on investigations of organised crime.


3rd March

Update: On Par with Zimbabwe...

RAI suspends TV political talk shows in run up to regional elections

Italian journalists and opposition politicians accused state broadcaster RAI of censorship after it announced it was suspending political talk shows ahead of key regional elections this month.

The board of RAI, dominated by supporters of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, voted to suspend the shows ahead of the March 28-29 polls to avoid possible sanctions from a parliamentary committee.

RAI is required by law to guarantee equal airtime to politicians of all sides and can face sanctions if it is found to have breached the rules. To avoid the problem, the broadcaster will temporarily replace some of the talk shows -- a staple of Italy's political and media diet -- with a series of moderated debates between the candidates.

This puts an unprecedented silencer on the freedom of the press, said Giovanni Floris, presenter of the weekly political talk-show Ballaro . We're going to do anything and everything we can to beat this and go on the air.

The accusations of censorship were dismissed as ridiculous by Enzo Fassano, a legislator for Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PDL) and a member of the committee that oversees RAI: All this amounts to is a few presenters taking a break for a couple of weeks so the candidates can debate fairly .

The consumer union Federconsumatori said it would explore whether suspending the talk shows may violate RAI's public service obligations. This situation puts us on the same level of democracy and free press as Zimbabwe, said Federconsumatori's head, Rosario Trefiletti.


13th February

Update: TV Dumbed Down...

Berlusconi effectively bans TV politics shows for regional election

Silvio Berlusconi's supporters in the Italian parliament have outraged opposition MPs and journalists with a controversial clampdown on political talk shows ahead of next month's regional elections.

The ruling PDL Party's majority on the parliamentary watchdog that oversees public broadcaster RAI forced through rules that mean the state broadcaster's most popular talk shows will have to scrap their political content or face a transfer from mid-evening to graveyard shifts. Programmes such as Ballarò and Annozero, which have frequently held Berlusconi to account for alleged sex scandals and even Mafia links, will be the main victims of the month-long clamp down that prompted accusations of censorship.

Political content will be allowed but only if all 30 or so parties standing in the elections are represented on every show, which programme-makers said would make their formats unworkable.

The Prime Minister began his surprise intervention by hitting out at his perceived nemesis, the left-wing judiciary, before launching into a spectacular rant against the programme and RAI. Earlier that month Berlusconi described RAI's other flagship debate show Annozero as a criminal use of public television after it broadcast the first live interview with the call-girl Patrizia D'Addario, in which she dismissed the premier's claims he was unaware she was a call girl when they slept together.


23rd October

Update: Losing Face...

Facebook group winds up Berlusconi's government

The 20,000 members of a Facebook group called Let's Kill Berlusconi face an investigation after Rome magistrates said that the group could prompt an assassination attempt against the Italian Prime Minister.

But new members were continuing to join the group ( Uccidiamo Berlusconi in Italian) yesterday after prosecutor Nello Rossi announced the move, following government pressure for action against the Facebook users.

Angelino Alfano, the Justice minister, said: I'm waiting for the magistrates to do their duty and investigate, pursue and find the ones, who by encouraging hatred and murder against Silvio Berlusconi, are committing a punishable offence.

A third of the group's members have joined in the past 48 hours after criticism by the Berlusconi family newspaper Il Giornale raised its profile. Nonetheless, ministers said they were alarmed that some members of Uccidiamo Berlusconi, listed in Facebook's just for fun section, said they were willing to kill the Prime Minister.

Interior minister Roberto Maroni has pledged to shut down the group and publicly denounce its participants. I don't think that there's a country in the world in which someone would be able to write on a website 'Let's kill the Prime Minister', he told Corriere della Sera. It would be a good thing if this demonisation of political adversaries stopped. I'm extremely concerned there's a risk things could get out of control.


15th October

Update: Good News!...

Berlusconi to bombard the world with propaganda

Unsatisfied with his direct and indirect control over most of Italy's media, Silvio Berlusconi has devised a campaign to stop the world's press sniping at him over his sex life and legal woes.

An emergency taskforce is to be established within a month to monitor airwaves and news-stands the world over for coverage of Italy and bombard foreign newsrooms with good news about the country.

The plan was announced by the tourism minister, Michela Vittoria Brambilla, who said a crack team of young journalists and communications experts would be assembled to stamp out bad news.

Their first job will be to monitor all the foreign press, including dailies, periodicals and TV in every latitude, from Japan to Peru, she told Corriere della Sera today.

The second task will be to bombard those newsrooms with truthful and positive news , and reveal to the world a generous, truthful and audacious Italy - the Italy of entrepreneurs, art, cultural events and our products .

Brambilla said that Italian exports were suffering as a result of the country's bad press. Exporters are worried because it is only news of the shameful attacks on Berlusconi that reach abroad. This affects national appeal and we cannot allow that.


3rd October

Offsite: The People vs Berlusconi...

Italians are marching against the prime minister's stranglehold on their country's media

Italians will stage a huge demonstration for free speech in Rome on 3 October, in protest of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's new efforts to stifle media criticism. Protesters will also demonstrate in other cities such as London, where the Italian community and friends will gather in front of BBC World Service headquarters.

The idea of organising a demonstration to support freedom of expression came after Berlusconi's lawyers launched defamation suits against two leading newspapers, La Repubblica and L'Unità at the end of August. The move marked an unprecedented change in Berlusconi's usual (and usually successful) strategy. Previously he portrayed himself as a victim of communist and judicial conspiracies, instead of taking legal actions against those accusing him of wrongdoings.

According to Berlusconi's lawyers, La Repubblica is guilty of asking offensive questions to the prime minister. Notably, these include the 10 questions that the newspaper has published daily since May concerning Berlusconi's friendship with young women and the state of his health. L'Unità the main opposition party's daily, is charged reporting comments by the foreign press which are harmful to the prime minister, even though these comments were reported by most of the Italian press.

Following this legal action, Berlusconi received an open letter from three eminent Italian jurists, now supported by 445,000 people and counting. The letter tells Berlusconi that the only way to prove the questions are offensive is not to silence the questioner, but to answer them. The international media have also grown concerned about the current state of affairs, with The Economist suggesting that the PM's move are similar to those undertaken by an earlier Italian politician, Benito Mussolini. full article

Update: Berlusconi Loses Immunity from Prosecution

8th October 2009. See article from

Silvio Berlusconi was defiant after Italy's top court stripped him of his immunity from prosecution.

Berlusconi pushed through the law giving him immunity last year, meaning that he did not have to stand trial in a corruption case alongside British company lawyer David Mills. Berlusconi may now have to stand trial in a corruption case which saw David Mills, the estranged husband of Tessa Jowells, jailed

The Constitutional Court ruled that the legislation, pushed through by Berlusconi soon after he returned for a third term in power, violates the principle that all citizens are equal before the law.

The fallout is likely to prove even more damaging to centre-Right leader Mr Berlusconi's 17-month-old government than the sex scandals that have seen his popularity plummet, including the revelation that prostitutes had attended a party at the married premier's home.


3rd September

Update: Videocracy at Work...

RAI trailer censorship fuels demand to see film about Berlusconi enjoying life

The ban by the RAI network on the clip for Videocracy showing at the Venice Film Festival has backfired and led to a surprising uptake in interest in the documentary.

Videocracy is among the most contentious films to be shown at the two-week event. RAI wrote to the director, Erik Gandini, stating that the film was offensive to Silvio Berlusconi's reputation. The advert showed scantily-attired women and statistics claiming Italy lacked press freedom. Berlusconi's company, Mediaset, also declined to screen the trailer.

Since then, requests from cinemas in Italy to obtain a print of the film have shot up from 35 to 70 venues, leading to many hundreds more screenings. The ban indicated the level of tension in Italy regarding everything that goes on TV, Gandini said: I was scared by the ban, and by RAI's Orwellian-style letter, but the day after, there was a huge explosion of interest on the internet. The print numbers have doubled.


31st August

Update: Media Power...

RAI refuses trailer for documentary about rise of Berlusconi's TV stations

In Italy state-owned TV channels have refused to show the trailer of the latest documentary by Erik Gandini, Videocracy , which looks at the rise of Berlusconi's TV stations and impact on the Italy's customs and ethics.

In a press statement state-owned Rai TV executives justified their decision by saying that the documentary is critical of the government.


16th May

Offsite: Censorship by Stealth...

Berlusconi stamps down on those who criticise him

Daniele Luttazzi has a stronger claim than most as posterboy for Silvio Berlusconi's censorship by stealth. As a television presenter and comic actor who dared to criticise the Italian Prime Minister on his late-night show eight years ago he has been sued and cast out in to the broadcasting cold.

In his first interview with a British newspaper Mr Luttazzi has accused the 72-year-old billionaire of orchestrating a top-down campaign to prevent journalists and comedians from voicing even the slightest degree of dissent on television. I call it Fascism Lite, Luttazzi told The Times.

The comedian was sued for 20 million (£18 million) - one action by Berlusconi, and three by his business empire - after being accused of defamation during an television interview in 2001. After waiting four years for the case to crawl through the courts Luttazzi won. Berlusconi was ordered to pay his costs.

He says that he still remains practically unemployable in a country where the majority of the mainstream media is owned by the powerful subject of his gibes. I won, said Luttazzi: But the damage was done.

...Read the full article


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