Apology to the Guardian for Berlusconi
July 13, 2009
The Guardian, by Antonio di Pietro
As a member of the Italian parliament and former magistrate who ensured that many corrupt politicians and businessmen were brought to justice in the 1990s, I wish to apologise to the editor and staff of the Guardian newspaper for the utterly predictable reaction of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and our foreign minister, Franco Frattini.
The Guardian does its best to keep the public informed. In Italy this government is not accustomed to free debate, or to hearing the truth being told. While sections of the article dealing with preparations for the G8 summit may be debatable, the rest of it contains little that can be refuted.
However, there is one classification missing from the list in the article, one published by Freedom House, which puts Italy 73rd place for freedom of the press. The real problem in our country is that information is firmly in the grip of one individual, namely our prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi – which must be one of the worst cases of conflict of interest ever recorded in any country in the western world.
Berlusconi's control over the media is exercised via his ownership of the largest Italian publishing house, Mondadori, as well as via the country's six television networks: three private Mediaset channels owned by Berlusconi himself and three channels of the public broadcaster RAI which Berlusconi indirectly controls and influences, with very rare exceptions I might add, through managerial staff appointments.
His virtually total control of the media allows him to maintain a dominant position and provides an endless source of revenue that helps to consolidate his position within the institutions via a wide-ranging system of patronage. In the past, these revenues were made possible by the tacit approval of previous governments that refused to address the issue of obvious conflicts of interest. Currently Berlusconi pays the Italian government a mere 1% of turnover in return for the television broadcasting frequencies conceded to him and now used for Mediaset transmissions. Since the centre-right coalition government came to power, a number of major parastatal companies have diverted their advertising expenditure from the RAI public television networks to the private networks belonging to the prime minister.
In addition to the media issue, there is now also another, namely the scourge of the "unconstitutional" government reforms. The first of these was a law known as the Alfano bill, which was ordered by Silvio Berlusconi himself as his first act after coming to power, which prohibits the prosecution of himself and the incumbents in three other senior government posts.
The provisions of this law mean Berlusconi did not have to appear in a trial in which he was facing charges of bribing a witness. David Mills, his lawyer and former husband of Blair government minister Tessa Jowell, has been sentenced to four years and six months imprisonment for accepting a bribe. On 6 October, the constitutional court is due to issue a ruling regarding the constitutionality of the Alfano bill and, should the court rule that it is indeed unconstitutional, then Berlusconi will be obliged to stand trial for allegedly bribing Mills.
I would like to conclude by appealing to the Guardian and the other foreign press not to allow the spotlight to move away from Italy and to continue to perform the same vitally important task that they have always performed in the past, namely the task of informing the public, a role that most of our media have abdicated from because they are no longer being allowed to do their job.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.