Italian state television raises fears for press independence
As pressure mounts on Mauro Masi CEO of Rai TV, Giulio D’Eramo looks at why journalists see the government-owned network as a threat to freedom of expression
06 Oct 10

As pressure mounts on Mauro Masi, CEO of Rai TV, Giulio D’Eramo looks at why journalists see the government-owned network as a threat to freedom of expression

Amidst the ongoing political crisis prompted by the exit of 35 MPs from Silvio Berlusconi’s party on 30 July, the Union for state television network Rai has called for the resignation of CEO Mauro Masi. An internal referendum will be held within the next two weeks. The Union accuses Mr. Masi of working in the political interests of the government, but also the economic interests of Mediaset TV, which is owned by the prime minister. But Rai has always been under the influence of political parties and the government. So what are the reasons behind the Union’s vehement protest?

Masi has been hugely criticized for moves favouring Mediaset and damaging Murdoch’s Sky Italia. The Rai CEO has also been accused of putting pressure on prominent journalists, which has sometimes resulted in their resignation. But the main issue at stake is the renewal of Rai’s service contract at the end of the year. The agreement fixes all the specifications for Rai TV, from editorial guidelines to content obligations. It is not a law, but it nevertheless indicates the path that journalists should follow.

In the present climate media workers fear that the new contract will represent another major setback for freedom of expression and plurality. The most worrying factor is that the contract will be agreed by the Rai executive board, which is entirely elected by parliament — it therefore reflects the wishes of the parliamentary majority and the Minister for Economic Development. And who has adopted that position since Claudio Scajola resigned following a corruption scandal five months ago? Well, Berlusconi himself — at least until yesterday, when he named trustworthy Paolo Romani to the post. Romani is known for having helped the Prime Minister’s media empire with measures that hurt the revenues of its main private competitor, Murdoch’s Sky Italia. It seemed very weird that in times of economic crisis such a key ministry would remain vacant for over 155 days. Now we understand why.

It is important to remember that the contents obligations outlined in the contract refer only to Rai, so the imposed limitations would give a competitive advantage to its major rivals: Murdoch’s Sky Italia and Berlusconi’s Mediaset.

Then again, the press has already named Mr. Romani “Minister for the Economic Development of Mediaset”.