Italy: Journalists strike over threat to "press freedom" (1)

On Tuesday 10 June 2003 journalists undertook strike action called by the Italian
journalists´ union (Federazione Nazionale della Stampa Italiana, FNSI) "to defend press
freedom and to protect the independence of the sector". The one-day strike affected the
printed press, press agencies, websites, free-lance journalists and press offices, with a
further strike involving radio and television journalists scheduled for 18 June. The FNSI
spoke a "massive participation and a "success", in spite of "repeated and offensive attacks"
against the trade union, and concerning the "political" nature of the strike. Paolo Serventi
Longhi, the general secretary of the FNSI, accepted that the strike was political "if what is
meant is that it is in defence of the right to be informed, a right which is sanctioned in the
Constitution and that we believe is currently very much at risk". Serventi Longhi stressed
that less newspapers were available on news stands than has been the case during strikes
during contractual negotiations in the past. An appeal by the FNSI calling on journalists to
join the strike claimed that "it is becoming increasingly more difficult, in many businesses" in
the information sector, "to produce information correctly, without any interference", alleging
that external interest groups influence the items on television and radio news programmes
and the titles in newspapers. Italian president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro also supported the strike,
arguing that he believes that "Yes, freedom of information is in danger" speaking of a "strong
and dangerous restriction of news and consequently, of the truth", that is available.

The press statement issued on 21 May 2003 to call for strike action highlighted a number of
issues that need to be resolved, including prime minister Silvio Berlusconi´s conflict of
interests, because of his institutional role and ownership of substantial media assets. Other
questions included a draft law on telecommunications drawn up by Maurizio Gasparri, the
Alleanza Nazionale minister for communications, which looks to abolish anti-trust limits on
media ownership, described as a "threat to pluralism", and seeks to introduce tougher
sanctions for press crimes. Discussions held in parliament saw the approval of an
amendment seeking to introduce custodial sentences for defamation through the media.

A number of incidents were brought up in relation to the strike to indicate that press
freedom is at risk from outside interference. These included an inspection in the offices of
RAI 3 (RAI is Italy´s public radio and television broadcaster, and has three TV stations) on
8 May, after a news report on a trial featuring Berlusconi aroused his criticism, statements
by the prime minister that were pre-recorded and sent to television stations to be broadcast
without the possibility of journalists to interview him, the disappearance of three journalists
(Enzo Biagi, Enrico Luttazzi and Michele Santoro) from prime-time RAI television
programmes after Berlusconi singled them out for criticism during a trip to Bulgaria and,
most recently, the resignation of Ferruccio De Bortoli, director of Corriere della Sera, one
of Italy´s most influential daily newspapers, which led to a strike by the newspaper´s staff on
1 June 2003. Corrado Stajano, a leading columnist for the newspaper who resigned after
De Bortoli´s resignation, said that "I do not believe in the official version of De Bortoli´s
resignation - personal reasons - at all". He highlighted that the director´s support for
journalists who wrote about issues such as the prime minister´s conflict of interests, judicial
proceedings and in opposition to the war in Iraq had placed him under increasing pressure
from several quarters.


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