Berlusconi’s latest assault on free speech

Italy has now essentially banned talk shows on state broadcaster RAI from commenting on politics ahead of regional elections:  The ruling PDL Party’s majority on the parliamentary watchdog that oversees public broadcaster RAI forced through rules that mean the state broadcaster’s most popular talk shows will have to scrap their political content – or face ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
David Silverman/Getty Images
David Silverman/Getty Images
David Silverman/Getty Images

Italy has now essentially banned talk shows on state broadcaster RAI from commenting on politics ahead of regional elections: 

The ruling PDL Party's majority on the parliamentary watchdog that oversees public broadcaster RAI forced through rules that mean the state broadcaster's most popular talk shows will have to scrap their political content – or face a transfer from mid-evening to graveyard shifts. Programmes such as Ballarò and Annozero, which have frequently held Mr Berlusconi to account for alleged sex scandals and even Mafia links, will be the main victims of the month-long clamp down that prompted accusations of censorship.

Political content will be allowed – but only if all 30 or so parties standing in the elections are represented on every show, which programme-makers said would make their formats unworkable.

Italy has now essentially banned talk shows on state broadcaster RAI from commenting on politics ahead of regional elections: 

The ruling PDL Party’s majority on the parliamentary watchdog that oversees public broadcaster RAI forced through rules that mean the state broadcaster’s most popular talk shows will have to scrap their political content – or face a transfer from mid-evening to graveyard shifts. Programmes such as Ballarò and Annozero, which have frequently held Mr Berlusconi to account for alleged sex scandals and even Mafia links, will be the main victims of the month-long clamp down that prompted accusations of censorship.

Political content will be allowed – but only if all 30 or so parties standing in the elections are represented on every show, which programme-makers said would make their formats unworkable.

The rules will apply from 28 February until 28 March, when the country’s regional elections are held. Government

supporters said the rules were needed to ensure political neutrality during the election campaign.

Naturally, broadcasters owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset will not be effected by the rule. 

This joke of a law is the sort of thing one would expect out of Vladimir Putin’s Russia or Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and makes one wonder if Berlusconi would be taken at all seriously as a democratic leader if he didn’t happen to live in Western Europe. With his attempts to control Italy’s media and judiciary, a trail of corruption charges involving 2,500 court hearings, and — let’s face it — somewhat unbecoming personal behavior, Berlusconi is becoming an embarassment not just for Italy but for the European Union. 

Can the E.U. really be an international voice for democratic reform with one of its core members behaving like a tinpot dictator?

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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