Silvio Berlusconi’s job of prime minister gave him enormous influence over the country’s state-run broadcasting corporation RAI through its governing board. He also owned one of the country’s biggest media and publishing groups, Mondadori, as well as Mediaset, which operated three nationwide TV stations. This conflict of interests continued to alarm the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.
Berlusconi’s attacks on the media in 2003 were not as harsh as in the previous year, when journalists were sacked for criticising the government, which also interfered in the running of RAI in violation of the national constitution. But the prime minister’s behaviour did nothing to ease the structural and identity crisis at RAI.
Unrest among journalists grew further when two bills to protect Berlusconi were submitted to parliament. One of them, to supposedly resolve his conflict of interests, offered no real solution since it allowed him to remain owner of his media empire as long as he handed over day-to-day management to someone else.
In a surprise move, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi refused on 15 December to sign into law the other measure, the "Gasparri" bill, approved by parliament on 2 December. He asked both chambers to reconsider it because it contained unconstitutional clauses.
This bill, officially to pave the way for digital terrestrial TV, would have lifted the ban on one person owning more than two nationwide TV stations, meaning Berlusconi could keep his three, Italia 1, Canale 5 and Retequattro. The constitutional court had ruled on 20 November 2002, that Retequattro had to become a satellite station on 1 January 2004 so as to comply with the law on competition.
The bill would allow the owners of more than two TV stations to acquire daily newspapers from 1 January 2009. Newspapers were also permitted to buy TV stations, but in practice their weak finances would make this unlikely.
The Gasparri bill also proposed greatly broadening the base for calculating the 20 percent of advertising revenue that media owners were allowed to keep, to include income not just from TV ads, but from publishing, films and the written press as well. RAI and Mediaset collect between them 93 percent of all TV advertising revenue (63 percent going to Mediaset).
The bill provided for gradual part-privatisation of RAI and a change in the make-up of its board. Privatisation would begin on 31 January 2004 but shareholders could not own more than 1 percent of its total stock, meaning the economy ministry would keep control of it. The board would be enlarged from five members appointed by the presidents of both houses of parliament to nine - seven named by parliament’s watchdog commission and two by the ministry.
Berlusconi’s response to the president’s refusal was to issue a decree on 23 December giving Retequattro at least four more months (until 30 April 2004) to go satellite and so avoid losing a large chunk of its share value. The national telecommunications authority would then rule on the case again.
The courts obstructed the work of journalists in 2003 and undermined the protection of sources by prosecuting them and raiding their offices, especially for alleged violations of the rules of legal confidentiality. The year also saw a growing number of physical attacks on journalists investigating organised crime and attempts to intimidate them.
New information about four journalists killed before 2003
A 20-member parliamentary enquiry into the 20 March 1994 murder in Mogadishu (Somalia) of Ilaria Alpi, of the state-run TV station RAI3, and Slovenian cameraman Miran Hrovatin was set up on 31 July 2003 but had still not started work by the end of the year.
Deputy state prosecutor Franco Ionta said a member of the SISMI military intelligence service, warrant officer Vincenzo Li Causi, was murdered in Mogadishu on 12 November 1993. Some said he had been one of Alpi’s sources and that his death may have been linked the murder of the two journalists, who were investigating the illegal flow of arms and toxic waste between Italy and Somalia. A Rome court confirmed on 26 June 2002 that Hashi Omar Hassan had killed them but his life sentence was reduced to 26 years in prison because it said the murders were not premeditated.
A Naples court sentenced Valentino Gionta, Mafia boss in the southern town of Torre Annunziata, to life imprisonment on 29 September 2003 for killing Gianfranco Siani, a crime reporter for the daily Il Mattino, on 23 September 1985. On 10 June that year, Siani had written that Gionta and another gangster, Lorenzo Nuvoletta, were involved in a racket.
The supreme court cleared 84-year-old senator-for-life and former prime minister Giulio Andreotti on 30 October 2003 of ordering the murder of Carmine Pecorelli, managing editor of the magazine Osservatorio Politico, on 20 March 1979. He had been sentenced on appeal by a court in Perugia on 17 November 2002 to 24 years in prison after being acquitted at his original trial on 24 September 1999.
The Perugia court said the journalist was about to publish compromising documents about the then-ruling Christian Democratic Party and Andreotti, who was suspected of collusion with the Mafia. It said Andreotti had ordered the killing to prevent the revelations.
The supreme court also acquitted Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti, who the Perugia court had also convicted for the murder, along with four other suspects - former cabinet minister and judge Claudio Vitalone and Mafia associates Giuseppe Calò, Michelangelo La Barbera and Massimo Carminati.
A journalist physically attacked
Massimiliano Pisano, correspondent of the Catania (Sicily) daily La Sicilia in Giardini Naxos (near Taormina), was attacked by three thugs as he left a disco near Recanati on 7 August 2003. They warned him about his investigation into drug-trafficking in the town’s discos. He was hospitalised and off work for 10 days. Local police were investigating. The paper’s Messina bureau chief, Gino Mauro, said the journalist has written a lot about drug-dealing and had received anonymous threats.
Threats and attacks
Gianluigi Basilietti, of the daily Corriere di Viterbo, received a package at the paper’s offices on 10 November 2003 containing 200 grams of explosives, enough to kill him. Police, who defused the bomb, were focusing on an anarchist group believed to have sent similar packages to the public prosecutor’s office in Rome and Viterbo that arrived on 4 November. A report by Basiletti appeared the day afterwards. The bomb in Viterbo was defused, but the one in Rome went off, seriously injuring a policeman.
Six shots were fired at the door of journalist Giovanni Maria Sedda’s home in Gavoi (near Nuoro, in eastern Sardinia) in the early hours of 21 October. Sedda, local correspondent for the Sardinian daily La Nuova Sardegna, was not hurt and said it was because he had recently reported on the knifing of a man by a group of drunks at a village fête at Gavoi early on 12 October. The car of a witness was later damaged. Villagers staged a demonstration against violence on 20 October.
Six shots were fired at the offices of the fortnightly paper Il Crotonese, in the southern town of Crotona, on 29 October, causing some damage. Editor Domenico Napolitano said the paper was regularly threatened and harassed because it reported on organised crime. The local prosecutor opened an enquiry.
Harassment and obstruction
Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi accused the "Tg3" news programme of the state-run TV station RAI 3 on 7 May 2003 of plotting against him. Speaking on the RAI station Radio Anch’io, he said it had exaggerated an incident two days earlier when he was insulted by freelance journalist Piero Ricca, whose father is a judge, as he was leaving a Milan court after appearing at a trial involving the food giant SME. Berlusconi told the radio the incident had been a "carefully-planned trap" with Tg3’s "obvious agreement." Ricca said he had acted in a strictly personal capacity.
The day after Berlusconi’s accusations, RAI inspectors questioned RAI 3 chief Antonio di Bella and Tg3 journalists who had covered the SME trial. The journalists’ union Usigrai said they wanted details of Tg3 programming and to check journalists’ figures about the foreign bank accounts involved in the case. RAI management denied it was a formal investigation and said it was just an "administrative check." Berlusconi again attacked RAI 3 for putting out "biased" programmes when he spoke at the convention of the Forza Italia party, a government coalition partner, in the northeastern city of Udine on 8 May.
The chamber of deputies (lower house of parliament) approved a bill on 22 July banning people from running a commercial business while holding government office and requiring day-to-day management of the firm to be transferred to someone else - in the case of prime minister Berlusconi to his family and associates. Opposition MPs boycotted the vote on the bill, which was then sent to the senate.
Police searched the offices of the ADN Kronos news agency on 25 July on the orders of a judge in the southern city of Brescia as part of an investigation of the agency’s owner, Andrea Pucci, who was accused of publishing legally confidential material. He had reported that judges Ilda Boccassini and Gherardo Colombo were being investigated for improper behaviour in the case of Cesare Previti, a former lawyer and an associate of Berlusconi accused of corruption in a scandal also involving the prime minister. The agency had also published a letter from a judge in Brescia, Giancarlo Tarquini, asking the Milan prosecutor’s office for information about the matter.
The public prosecutor in the southern city of Lecce began legal action on 6 October against Toti Bellone and Gianfranco Lattante, of the daily Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno, and Erasmo Marinazzo and Rosario Tornesello, of daily Nuovo quotidiano di Puglia, for publishing legally confidential material and "facilitating Mafia activities" in reports in June about organised crime that mentioned two investigators and gave information about two police informers. Nuovo quotidiano said the informers were already under police protection at the time.
Police spent seven hours at the offices of the Rome daily Il Giornale on 17 October looking at the files of reporter Gian Marco Chiocci, who had been investigating a scandal involving Telekom Serbia for two years. The paper belongs to prime minister Berlusconi’s brother Paulo. Police made a copy of Chiocci’s computer hard-drive and seized 7,000 pages of documents, diskettes, audio cassettes and CDs. They also went to search his house, but he was not there. The raid was ordered by Perugia provincial prosecutor Dario Razzi after judge Maria Bice Barborini accused Chiocci and the paper’s editor, Maurizio Belpietro, of libel and publishing confidential legal material.
The Telekom Serbia scandal erupted two years earlier when the then prime minister, Romano Prodi, along with Piero Fassino, national secretary of the Democrats of the Left party, and the then foreign minister, Lamberto Dini, were accused by businessman Igor Marini of taking bribes when Telecom Italia bought a 29 percent share in Telekom Serbia in 1997, at a loss to the government of more than 500 billion lire (260 million euros).
Chiocci was one of the first journalists to speak to Marini and had already been questioned about him by the Turin public prosecutor. Marini said Judge Barborini had forbidden him to talk about the Telekom Serbia scandal because, she said, "they’ll kill us all." When Chiocci reported this, Barborini filed a complaint against Marini with the Perugia prosecutor.
Many Italian papers investigated the scandal. The daily La Repubblica printed documents it said showed the whole thing had been got up by rightwing politicians to discredit the left and that Marini was a fraud. The bags of Francesco Bonazzi, of the weekly L’Espresso (published by the La Repubblica group), were searched by police at Rome airport on 15 September as he returned from Bangkok, where he had interviewed fugitives from justice involved in the case. Police seized several hundred key documents and on 1 October went to L’Espresso offices on the orders of the Turin prosecutor and seized a notebook and videocassette belonging to Bonnazzi.
A man who said he was an interior ministry official went to the offices of the daily L’Unità in the early hours of 23 October and photocopied all the pages of that day’s edition of the paper.
Forza Italia MP Isabella Bertolini presented a bill to the chamber of deputies on 4 November to replace prison sentences for libel in any media, including the Internet, with fines of between 1,500 and 7,500 euros and maximum damages of 25,000 euros. The chamber’s justice commission had on 7 May approved an amendment by Forza Italia MP Nino Mormino to increase libel penalties to up to three years in prison, a 10,000-euro fine and a one to three-month ban on working as a journalist.
The amendment was to a libel law reform bill drafted by Alleanza Nazionale MP Gianfranco Anedda, who resigned immediately after the amendment was approved. The opposition, and also prime minister Berlusconi and justice minister Roberto Castelli, had spoken against it the amendment.
The governing board of RAI decided on 19 November to drop the satirical news programme "RaiOt" presented by Sabrina Guzzanti on RAI 3 three days after one version of it went out called "RaiOt, weapons of mass destruction" about the state of news in Italy. The board said they acted in response to a 20-million-euro libel suit against RAI, Guzzanti and journalist and script-writer Marco Travaglio by prime minister Berlusconi’s Mediaset group, which said it contained "lies and very serious accusations" against the group that harmed its reputation, especially since it came from a direct rival.
In the programme, Guzzanti had criticised the undermining of media diversity and press freedom in Italy and said Mediaset was the only media company making an advertising profit.