Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Media Freedom in Italy: The Slow and Steady Dismantling

The Italian press has a historically rocky relationship with its country's leaders, and tensions came to a head Saturday when a reported 150,000 - 300,000 came out in Rome to protest Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s recent attacks geared towards the media.

“I am gratified by the energy I can feel here. It will take this kind of energy − and much more − to push back against the forces and the trends that imperil journalism and journalists face today,” said Jim Boumelha, President of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Berlusconi, owner of a large portion of the country's televised and print media, has been increasingly critical of journalists, prompting concerns over a conflict of interest between his role in government and the media. The media mogul turned Prime Minister is suing two left-wing newspapers over their reports of his relations with prostitutes and other young women.

He went on national television to call the media "scoundrels," urged advertisers not to buy in papers that are critical of him, and even outed as gay the editor of a Catholic paper that has been critical of him.

On The Media reporter Megan Williams says, "This kind of cult of personality approach by both supporters and Berlusconi himself triggers constant comparisons to Mussolini."

La Repubblica is one of the papers being sued and released this statement saying, "The libel action against 'Repubblica' is the last in a long list of attacks against this daily which can only be seen as attempts at silencing the free press, at benumbing public opinion, at removing us from the international information scene and ultimately at making our country the exception to the rule of Democracy."

Just three days before the rally, Reporters Without Borders warned that the leader is increasingly closer to being declared a "predator" to the free press.

Italy is currently tied with Tonga for number 73 on Freedom House's Press Freedom Index and is above only Turkey for worst offender in all of Western Europe.

Photo Credit: RSF

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