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Italy awaits president’s decision on new prime minister

Giuseppe Conte arrived for a meeting with Italy's president on Wednesday evening, with an announcement expected shortly afterwards on whether he will appoint the little-known lawyer to lead a government formed by far-right and anti-establishment groups.

Italy awaits president's decision on new prime minister
Giuseppe Conte arrives for the meeting on Wednesday. Photo: FRANCESCO AMMENDOLA / QUIRINALE PRESS OFFICE / AFP

Italian media said claims that Conte had exaggerated his CV had delayed President Sergio Mattarella's decision on whether to approve him as premier. Media also reported there were worries over the choice of an anti-euro economy minister by the parties, whose combative stance towards Brussels has caused fears for European financial stability.

But Mattarella summoned Conte to the presidential palace at 5.30 pm.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the anti-immigrant League nominated Conte, 54, for premier on Monday. But scandal soon struck over doubts about his claims to have studied at certain top world universities.

“Conte betrayed by his CV,” ran a headline in left-leaning newspaper La Republicca. “The CV affair is open, Conte is hanging in the balance,” said Il Corriere della Sera.

The parties are seeking to form a coalition government in a bid to end two months of political deadlock following March's inconclusive general election.

Mattarella must agree to the parties' candidate and ministerial team before they can seek approval for the new government in parliament.

CV controversy

Conte's official CV says that he “furthered his juridical studies” at Yale, New York University (NYU), Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, the Sorbonne and Cambridge, but some entries have been called into question.

NYU told AFP that their records did not “reflect Giuseppe Conte having been at the University as a student or having an appointment as a faculty member”. It said he was granted permission to conduct research in the institution's law library between 2008 and 2014.

READ ALSO: Who is Giuseppe Conte, the political novice picked to become Italy's PM?


Giuseppe Conte (R) shakes hands with Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Cambridge University declined to give details about Conte. Duquesne University told AFP he attended as part of an affiliation with Villa Nazareth, an exchange programme, and did legal research but “was not enrolled as a student”.

Conte has yet to speak out publicly about the affair. Five Star has defended him as its choice to head a cabinet in which M5S leader Luigi Di Maio and League chief Matteo Salvini are tipped to hold key posts.

“Conte is and absolutely remains Five Star and the League's prime ministerial candidate,” state news agency ANSA quoted Di Maio as saying on Wednesday.

EU worries

Salvini meanwhile defended the coalition's eurosceptic candidate for economy minister, Paolo Savona. Minister for industry between 1993-94, Savona was staunchly opposed to the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and considers the euro a “German cage”.

“He is an expert with a solid background of studies but made the mistake of daring to say that the EU as it is isn't working,” Salvini said. “Why do you even bother to let us vote if when the people ask for radical change you tell us to be careful?”

READ ALSO:

European officials have expressed worry that Italy could trigger a new eurozone crisis by refusing to stick to public spending and debt targets set by Brussels. EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said on Wednesday that Italy must deliver a “credible” response on how it will reduce debt.

Italy has one of the eurozone's highest levels of government debt and lowest growth rates. More than eight percent of its population lives in poverty, according to national statistics agency Istat.

Di Maio and Salvini's government programme pledges tax cuts and increased welfare spending to boost growth. It also plans to speed up expulsions of illegal immigrants.

On Tuesday Salvini said there would have to be new elections if the coalition government was not given the go-ahead by Mattarella.

“Either we start and we begin the change or we may as well go back to the polls,” he said in a live video on Facebook. 

READ ALSO: Here are the key proposals from the M5S-League government programme


M5S leader Luigi Di Maio and League leader Matteo Salvini. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

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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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