Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi effectively controls the material seen by 90 per cent of TV viewers in Italy. Through his ruling centre-right coalition government, he hold sway over the state TV network RAI, which is headed by a pro-government management. He also controls the privately-owned Mediaset group, which runs three other major TV networks, and is a shareholder in one of the country’s main press and publishing groups, Mondadori.
In May 2001, he promised to resolve the conflict of interest between controlling Mediaset and being head of the government. But the bill tackling this, adopted by parliament on 28 February 2002, simply set up a monitoring body to see that government officials did not take decisions that favoured their business interests. The new law allows Berlusconi to keep his media holdings as long as he has no direct responsibility. No punishment is provided for violation of this rule.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says such a direct link between the news media and the government is a threat to democracy in Italy. The OSCE press freedom representative, Freimut Duve, says Italy is a bad example to other countries that do not respect the separation of the media from the state.
RAI went through a grave crisis at the end of the year, when three of its five board members resigned, led on 20 November by the two centre-left opposition representatives, Luigi Zanda and Carmine Donzelli, after a serious disagreement with board chairman Antonio Baldassarre. They were followed on 27 November by Marco Stadernini, a centrist.
All three said the network was not respecting news diversity. The board, which represents the main political spectrum, is appointed by the presidents of the chamber of deputies and the senate. A strike call by some trade unions at RAI was joined on 20December by the Italian National Press Federation (FNSI), thus spreading to the entire media.
Numerous attacks on press freedom occurred during the year, especially the censorship of five TV programmes and the increasing number of searches of newspaper offices and journalists’ homes on the pretext of fighting terrorism. Courts also contravened United Nations standards by sentencing two journalists to prison for media offences.
New information on journalists killed before 2002
The Rome assizes court confirmed on 26 June 2002 the conviction of Hashi Omar Hassan for killing RAI3 journalist Ilaria Alpi and Slovenian cameraman Miran Hrovatin in 1994, but commuted the life sentence to 26 years, saying the crime was not premeditated. The journalists were killed on 20 March 1994 in Mogadishu (Somalia) while covering the UN "Restore Hope" operation.
On 17 November, former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti was sentenced on appeal to 24 years in prison for ordering the 20 March 1979 murder of journalist Carmine Pecorelli. The 83-year-old senator-for-life cannot be imprisoned however and announced his decision to appeal against the sentence. He had been cleared of the murder on 24 September 1999 by a Perugia court, but the local prosecutor’s office appealed. The Perugia court also jailed Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti for 24 years for the murder of Pecorelli, editor of the magazine Osservatorio Politico (OP), who was about to publish material linking Andreotti with the Mafia.
A journalist imprisoned
Stefano Surace, publisher of the anti-conformist weekly Le Ore in the 1960s and known for his prison investigations, was arrested and jailed on 24 December 2001. He had been sentenced in absentia to more than two years in prison for press offences dating back more than 30 years. He was put under house arrest on 16 August 2002 but fled on 3 October to France, where has lived with his family for the past quarter-century.
Nine journalists threatened
The daily Corriere della Sera reported on 26April 2002 that journalist and writer Oriana Fallaci had received death threats because of her publc stand against Islamic culture in an article in the paper on 12 December 2001 and then in a book.
At least seven correspondents of the US and Israeli media in Rome and Milan received letters or anonymous phone calls at the end of September threatening to kill them if thy did not leave the country by 30 October. The handwritten letters made references to the Red Brigades (a far left group that has physically attacked and killed prominent people since the 1970s), but police did not think the Red Brigades were responsible for the threats. The targeted journalists chose to remain anonymous.
Maurizio Belpietro, managing editor of the daily Il Giornale, owned by the Berlusconi family, received an envelope on 31December containing three bullets and a letter threatening him and the paper signed by the "20 July Brigades" (a reference to the date of the death of anti-globalisation demonstrator Carlo Giuliani during protests at the G8 nations summit in Genoa in 2001). Anti-terrorist police opened an enquiry.
Pressure and obstruction
The satirical programme "The Hyenas" on the TV station Italia 1, belonging to Prime Minister Berlusconi, was censored on 27 January 2002 after deputy minister for cultural property Vittorio Sgarbi obtained a court order banning its transmission because it contained remarks by him that he would inspect museums at night to see if they were being run properly. He denied censoring the programme but admitted that he had demanded 10,000 euros from the programme’s producers in return for giving back a microphone he had snatched at the end of the interview and for giving permission for the programme to be broadcast.
At a press conference in Sofia (Bulgaria) on 19 April, Prime Minister Berlusconi fiercely denounced three RAI journalists who had criticised his government and hinted they should be dismissed. He said they way they were using a public TV network "funded by all taxpayers" was "criminal." He criticised the programme "Sciuscià" of Michele Santoro and "Il Fatto" of Enzo Biagi. The two programmes were dropped in June. The OSCE asked Berlusconi on 27 June to justify these decisions. Santoro was suspended between 15 and 18 October for disciplinary reasons.
The home and office of columnist Guido Ruotolo, of the daily La Stampa, was searched on 3 May by police who suspected he had published material covered by legal confidentiality rules in an enquiry into an Islamic fundamentalist cell in the capital.
On 5 and 13 March, police searched the homes of Fiorenza Sarzanini, of Corriere della Sera, and Claudia Fusani, of the daily La Repubblica, as well as the offices of the newspapers, as part of an investigation of international terrorism.
Anti-terrorist police searched the homes of Sarzanini and Mario Menghetti, of the daily Il Messaggero, on 19 August on orders of the Genoa prosecutor following articles on 5 August about violence at the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001. The journalists were suspected of publishing extracts from a secret report by police about Carlo Giuliani, a young demonstrator killed during the protest.
A popular Radio 3 cultural programme "Mattino Tre," which regularly discussed freedom of expression and press freedom, was dropped by RAI in September.
RAI chief Agostino Saccà refused to allow the broadcast on 8 October of the satirical programme "Blob," focusing on Prime Minister Berlusconi and called "Berlusconi against the world." He said it was not censorship but "just a discussion" he had had with the head of RAI 3, Paolo Ruffini.
Anti-terrorist police searched the offices of the daily Corriere Mercantile in Genoa for five hours on 15 November and seized computer equipment. The paper had carried a report that day about a Palestinian suspected by local officials of belonging to the Hamas extremist group. The paper was accused of violating legal confidentiality rules during an enquiry into terrorism.
A court in Salerno overturned on 30November the libel conviction of journalist and Forza Italia senator Raffaele Jannuzzi, who had been sentenced by a Naples court on 20 November to two and a half years in prison for libel in articles between 1987 and 1993 in Il Giornale di Napoli, which he edited. The articles criticised judges fighting the Mafia. Jannuzzi, 74, who has done many investigations of the Mafia, had notably defended TV presenter Enzo Tortora, convicted in 1983 on police informers’ evidence of helping the Mafia. The Naples court had refused to allow him to serve his sentence in the form of house arrest or partial imprisonment.