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Italy24 April 2002

RSF urges President Ciampi to take a firm stand against the current threat to pluralism of information

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) today expressed alarm at Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s strong criticism of several journalists of the state-owned TV network RAI and called on President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi to veto a law being pushed through parliament, saying freedom of information was in danger in Italy.

"The fears we have been voicing for months have now been confirmed," RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter. "Berlusconi is stepping up pressure on RAI, filling it with his henchmen and breaking his promise to resolve the conflict of interest between his job as prime minister and his position as head of a privately-owned media conglomerate."

The so-called "conflict of interest" bill aimed at resolving it "has no teeth," Ménard said. "We ask you to veto this law, demand proper guarantees and, as guardian of the Constitution, take a firm stand against the current threat to pluralism and freedom of information in Italy."

At a press conference in Sofia (Bulgaria) on 19 April, Berlusconi, owner of the media group Mediaset, fiercely attacked three RAI journalists who have criticised his government and hinted that they should be removed. He said the way the three - Biagi, Santoro and Luttazzi - were using a public TV network "paid for by all taxpayers" was "criminal." A few days earlier, on 16 April, three people close to the government coalition were named to head the programming and news departments of two of the three RAI stations.

RSF notes that through the holding company Fininvest, Berlusconi controls Italy’s main privately-owned TV group, Mediaset, which runs the country’s three main private stations, and is among the majority shareholders in Mondadori, one of Italy’s main press and publishing groups.

He promised in May last year that he would resolve the conflict of interest between his political position and his control of Mediaset. However, the bill currently before the senate does no more than set up a body to see that government officials do not make decisions favouring their private business interests. It would not affect Berlusconi’s ownership of or influence over Mediaset.

The first draft of the bill, passed by the chamber of deputies, had to be amended after being criticised by most people as so inadequate that the government’s parliamentary majority feared President Ciampi would refuse to sign it into law. But Ciampi does not seem to have seriously considered doing this, despite several times expressing concern about media diversity.

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