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POLITICS

Today in Italian politics: Free flights to Italy?

In the run-up to the Italian general election on March 4th, The Local is bringing you a daily round up of who's done what and why in the fast-moving world of Italian politics.

Today in Italian politics: Free flights to Italy?
Don't expect to be ushered aboard a free Alitalia flight anytime soon. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Days to go until Italy votes: 10

Things are getting real. We're almost into single figures.

You can read Wednesday's daily politics recap here and catch up on all our election coverage so far here.

THE HEADLINES

  • Mafia meddling?

Italy's organized crime groups continue to wield significant influence, and Italy's Interior Minister warned on Wednesday that there was a “concrete risk” of mafia interference in the election.

Minniti said there had been “too much silence” on the issue in the campaign so far. Read more here.

  • Italy is 'steeped in hate'

That's the verdict of human rights group Amnesty International, which warned today that Italy's election campaign had unleashed a torrent of hate speech. 

The rights group is monitoring candidates' statements on social media and has flagged more than 200 discriminatory comments in the past two weeks alone, virtually all of them from members of the centre-right alliance. The tone speaks to a country “steeped in hostility, racism, xenophobia and unjustified fear of others”, Amnesty said. 

In response, Matteo Salvini of the League – the party responsible for at least half of the comments identified – says he wants to meet directors of Amnesty and prove he's not all bad. Read more here.

  • Europe bracing for Italy's 'worst case scenario'

The European Commission has to prepare itself for every outcome, EC president Jean-Claude Juncker said today, including the possibility that Italy will end up without a government after the March 4th vote. 

“A strong market reaction in the second half of March is possible,” Juncker says, if indeed Italy finds itself with “a non-operational government”. It's the worst case scenario, he added, but it's one that all the polls have indicated is more than possible.

  • Free Flights to Italy

Free flights to Italy: sounds like a campaign promise we can all get behind. And that's exactly what one party, on the ballot papers for Italians living in the USA, has pledged – at least for Italian citizens abroad, as well as their children, so that they can gain citizenship too.

New York-based journalist Alberto Riva posted the below image of his ballot.

In an interview with La Voce di New York, Giuseppe Macario, who founded Free Flights to Italy, said it was an NGO rather than a political party, and said the goal was for Italy to “welcome Italians, including foreigners, instead of driving them away”.

But some of Italy's major news organizations have raised questions about Macario and the party, and how they ended up on the list. Very little information is available about either online, and Rolling Stone Italia found several of Macario's claims to be false or unverifiable.

  • The Five Star Movement finalizes its team

The Five Star Movement has a government line-up. They just can't tell us about it yet. 

The M5S says it has finished allocating “practically all” its cabinet posts, in the event that it should win a majority on March 4th. It plans to announce them gradually over the coming days. Teaser: several key posts are said to go to women.

  • Slovaks first?

Matteo Salvini is fond of saying “Italians First“. Which is what makes it all the more amusing that the people featured front and centre in some of his campaign posters are… Slovakians. 

For the posters advertizing a rally in Milan, the League picked some stock shots of pale-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed families enjoying some of the city's sights. The only problem was, as a blogger revealed this week, those people aren't Italian. Not even a little bit. The photos are from a set by a Slovakian photographer titled “Holidays in Italy”. 

As the blogger who discovered the mix-up said: “Salvini wanted to divide Italy with secession, but he ended up reuniting Czechoslovakia”. 

IN DEPTH: What the Five Star Movement's local success says about their shot at national power

The Five Star Movement has its eyes on national power, but the biggest realms it has ever governed are cities. Its greatest election triumphs to date were getting its candidates voted mayors, most prominently in Rome and Turin but in dozens of smaller towns across Italy too.

One of those mayors, Michel Barbet of Guidonia outside Rome, is blunt about what got him into city hall: “We were elected, almost by default, because of the widespread disillusion. I wouldn't be here if the city had been well run.”

Now he's running for re-election, no longer an outsider but an incumbent. It's the same challenge the M5S is facing all over the country: how do you continue to fight the power when the power is you?

Find out how it's playing out in one small town here

METAPHOR OF THE DAY: Italy's election is just like a horse race 

Now we're in the final fortnight of the campaign, opinion polls are officially banned (here are the final figures as of last Friday). 

But one election-watching website has found a cunning way round the blackout. In a ruse sure to delight numbers guys and betting enthusiasts alike, RightNation.it has been posting daily updates about a mysterious horse race with runners that include “Burlesque”, “Mathieu de le Sauvegarder” and “Louis le Subjonctif”. 

If the names don't ring any bells, the numbers surely will: the “horses'” “times” correspond closely with what we know about the various parties' share of the vote. Still curiouser, it's the only race in the world where the biggest time on the board gets you first place. 

Did we miss something?

If there are any areas of Italian politics you'd like The Local to explain or take an in-depth look at, get in touch at [email protected], or via Facebook or Twitter.  

By Catherine Edwards and Jessica Phelan

For members

POLITICS

How much control does Giorgia Meloni’s government have over Italian media?

There's been renewed debate over the state of press freedom in Italy following warnings that Meloni's administration is seeking "control" of Italy's media. But what's behind these reports?

How much control does Giorgia Meloni's government have over Italian media?

Press freedom is at the centre of fresh debate in Italy this week after Spanish newspaper El País on Saturday published an article titled “Meloni wants all the media power in Italy.”

The report, which was picked up by Italian newspaper La Repubblica, suggests that the Italian prime minister and her right-wing executive is looking to “monopolise” national print and broadcast outlets

It follows reports in English-language media recently describing how Meloni is accused of trying to stamp her authority on Italian arts and media in what critics call a “purge” of dissenting voices.

Meloni and members of her administration have long faced accusations of trying to silence journalists and intimidate detractors. Media organisations say this often takes the form of high-profile politicians bringing lawsuits against individual journalists, and cite the defamation case brought by Meloni against anti-mafia reporter Roberto Saviano in 2023 as a prime example.

READ ALSO: Six things to know about the state of press freedom in Italy

Discussions over media independence aren’t new in Italy, as the country has consistently ranked poorly in the annual Press Freedom reports by Reporters without Borders in recent years. Italy came in 41st out of 180 in the 2023 ranking, which made it the worst country in western Europe for press freedom.

But what’s behind the recent allegations that the government is trying to exert a more direct influence?

Meloni, Porta a Porta

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Italian national TV show Porta a Porta in Rome on April 4th 2024. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

National television

The article from El País accuses Meloni’s cabinet of effectively controlling Italy’s two biggest national broadcasters: state-owned RAI and commercial broadcaster Mediaset.

While Mediaset and its three main channels (Rete 4, Canale 5 and Italia 1) have long been seen as ‘loyal’ to Meloni’s executive – the network was founded by the late Silvio Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party continues to be a key member of the ruling coalition – the government’s ties with public broadcaster RAI are more complex.

Unlike state-owned broadcasters in other European countries, RAI is not controlled by a regulatory body but rather by the government itself, which means that the network has always been particularly susceptible to political influences. 

But Meloni’s cabinet is accused of exerting unprecedented power over the broadcaster following the replacement of former top executives with figures considered closer to the government.

Salvini, RAI

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini speaks with Italian journalist Bruno Vespa during the talk show Porta a Porta, broadcast on Italian channel Rai 1. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Last May, Carlo Fuortes resigned as RAI’s CEO saying that he couldn’t possibly “accept changes opposed to RAI’s interests”. He was replaced by centrist Roberto Sergio, who in turn appointed Giampaolo Rossi – a “loyalist” of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party – as the network’s general director. 

Sergio and Rossi’s appointment was closely followed by a general management reshuffle which saw figures close to the government occupy key positions within the company. This led to critics and journalists dubbing the network ‘TeleMeloni’.

Print media 

Besides concerns over its sway on Italy’s main broadcast networks, Meloni’s executive is currently under heavy scrutiny following the rumoured takeover of Italy’s AGI news agency by the right-wing Angelucci publishing group. 

The group is headed by Antonio Angelucci, an MP for Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s hard-right League party, and owner of three right-wing newspapers: Il Giornale, Libero and Il Tempo.

News of the potential takeover from Angelucci sparked a series of strikes and demonstrations from the news agency’s journalists in recent weeks, with reporters raising concerns over the independence and autonomy of journalists in the event of an ownership change.

The leader of the centre-left Democratic Party Elly Schlein weighed in on the matter last week, saying that the sale of Italy’s second-largest news agency to a ruling coalition MP would be “inadmissible”.

Further debate over press freedom in the country emerged in early March after three journalists from the left-wing Domani newspaper were accused of illegally accessing and publishing private data regarding a number of high-profile people, including Defence Minister Guido Crosetto, and the late Silvio Berlusconi’s girlfriend. 

The newspaper has so far condemned the investigation, saying it is “a warning to Domani and all journalists” and a further threat to media independence in a country ranked amongst the worst in Europe for press freedom.

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