Italy: Journalists strike over threat to "press freedom"

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.

Sources: FNSI statement announcing the strike, 21.5.03 (in Italian), FNSI press statement 11.6.03; FNSI appeal 5.6.03; "Ultimo giorno al Corriere", Corrado Stajano; il manifesto 10.6.03; further information available on:


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