Meloni ‘turning Italian broadcaster into megaphone for far right’ | Italy

The European Commission has been urged to investigate alleged attempts by Italy’s far-right government to turn the public broadcaster, Rai, into a “megaphone” for the ruling parties before the European elections.

The appeal from the European Green party came after the Italian parliament’s supervisory committee for Rai approved a measure allowing the broadcaster’s news channel to televise political rallies in full and without any journalistic mediation in the run-up to the vote in early June.

Agcom, the communications watchdog, rejected an attempt by politicians from the prime minister, Giorgia Meloni’s, Brothers of Italy party, the League and the smaller coalition partner, Noi Moderati, to allow ministers unrestricted airtime during the campaign period to discuss their “institutional and government activity”. However, they will still be entitled to do so during limited slots that critics argue could be exploited for electioneering.

“Meloni wants to turn Italian media into unrestricted propaganda channels for the ruling parties,” Bas Eickhout, a lead election candidate for the European Greens, told the Guardian.

“Free and independent press are a prerequisite for fair and free elections. These interferences by the Meloni government, which includes a [Forza Italia] member of Ursula von der Leyen’s European People’s party, undermine the freedom of the press and the fair election process.”

Terry Reintke, another lead European Green party candidate, said: “The media is the guardian of democracy. We cannot accept that Meloni is trying to turn it into a megaphone for her government. We stand with journalists in Italy and across Europe who are courageously fighting for press freedom and truth.”

Agcom’s par condicio, or “level playing field”, regulations for communication through the media during election campaigns are usually followed by both private and public TV networks, although parliament’s supervisory committee for Rai has the power to make changes, which the authority can then approve or not.

“For the first time, there are two different regimes for the public and private TV networks,” said Elisa Giomi, an Agcom commissioner who was the only person on the authority’s board to vote against all of the amendments made by the parliamentary committee. “For Rai viewers, it will be difficult to decipher what is communication of government activity and what is electioneering.”

In an unprecedented action, news anchors on Rai’s three main TV channels last week read a statement from the journalists’ union, Usigrai, condemning Meloni’s administration for “turning Rai into a government megaphone”.

Daniele Macheda, Usigrai’s president, criticised Agcom for approving the rule allowing political rallies to be broadcast in full on Rai. “Regardless of which party rally it is, it is wrong,” he said. “Live rallies, especially those without any input from journalists or commentators, are for YouTube and other social media, not a public information service. Could you imagine the BBC doing this?”

Since coming to power in October 2022, Meloni’s government has been accused of increasingly wielding power over the press. A Brothers of Italy politician last week proposed toughening penalties for defamation, including jail terms of two to three years.

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Meanwhile, journalists from AGI, Italy’s second-largest press agency, have held several strikes in recent weeks in protest over the company’s potential sale to Antonio Angelucci, a parliamentarian with the League.

“In Italy, we are witnessing a Hungarian drift,” said Vittorio Di Trapani, the president of FNSI, the national federation of the Italian press and journalists’ union, alluding to the tight grip Viktor Orbán’s government has on domestic media.

“The government controls Rai in an increasingly suffocating manner: from a public service it is becoming a government service. Then it wants to sell the second biggest news agency to a parliamentarian from the government majority. On top of that, we have the liberticidal laws such as those on defamation.

“Italy is increasingly distant from Europe and from the standards of the European Media Freedom Act.”

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