Italy talk show ban "censorship", says opposition

ROME Tue Mar 2, 2010 11:28pm IST

Related Topics

ROME (Reuters) - Italian journalists and opposition politicians accused state broadcaster RAI of censorship on Tuesday 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 on Monday to suspend the shows ahead of the March 28-29 polls to avoid possible sanctions from a parliamentary committee.

Berlusconi has attacked RAI in the past for criticising the government, but his opponents say his political influence over RAI, and his family's ownership of its main commercial rival, give him an unacceptable sway over the media.

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."

Ill-feeling between state media and the government has festered over the past year amid the sex scandals and corruption allegations which have dogged the premier.

Berlusconi, who denies any wrongdoing, said last year it was "unacceptable" that the state-funded RAI, which runs three national television channels, was the only broadcaster to consistently criticise his government.

Berlusconi's Mediaset group owns three of the remaining four national television channels. His critics say that his sway over RAI, whose directors are named by a parliamentary committee dominated by Berlusconi's coalition, gives him far too much power over Italy's media.

Monday's decision was approved with the votes of RAI's five government-appointed directors and its director-general, and opposed by three opposition ones and its president.

"RAI should realise that, political pressures aside, censorship during an electoral campaign does not serve anyone's interests, not even the right," said opposition lawmaker Giorgio Merlo, deputy-head of the parliamentary committee which monitors RAI.

Berlusconi's coalition, expected to win the elections taking place in 13 of Italy's 20 regions, has been shaken in recent weeks by a corruption scandal at the civil protection agency and accusations of mafia links to some legislators.

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," he said.

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.

(Editing by Daniel Flynn and Robin Pomeroy)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

Mideast Conflict

MH17 Crash

MH17 Crash

Experts recover human remains at Ukraine crash site despite new fighting  Full Article 

Collateral Damage

Collateral Damage

How Iran sanctions fears hurt humanitarian trade  Full Article 

Ebola Outbreak

Ebola Outbreak

WHO chief says Ebola out of control but can be stopped  Full Article 

Graft in China

Graft in China

Exclusive - China's Xi likely to promote army general who exposed graft: sources  Full Article 

Sanctions on Russia

Sanctions on Russia

Russia has reserves to ride out sanctions - assuming no panic  Full Article 

Anti-gay Law

Anti-gay Law

Ugandan court overturns anti-gay law that halted Western aid  Full Article 

Iraq Crisis

Iraq Crisis

Iraqi foreign minister blames Maliki for Islamist insurgency  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage