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“It won’t solve the deeper problems”

Maxim: Europe should rap Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi over the knuckles

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is well known for his sexual escapades and for not giving a damn about freedom of press. He sues critical newspapers and runs his own commercial TV stations and the national broadcasting station RAI like a little Napoleon. Journalists held a protest march in Rome earlier this month. And this week, members of the European Parliament have organised a debate on Berlusconi and the freedom of press. Should Europe rap him over the knuckles?

“I just read in an Italian paper that Italy is plunged in the latest ranking for press freedom: from 44 to 49”, says Antonio Della Malva, an Italian PhD candidate at the School of Business and Economics. “We’re doing quite badly. The TV system is dominated by Berlusconi; he controls the three main channels. But the newspapers are quite free. For example, we know everything about our prime minister’s private life. You wouldn’t know that if there were no press freedom.” According to Della Malva the European Parliament should not rap Berlusconi over the knuckles. “They have the right to do it, but it’s annoying for Italian citizens. They see what’s happening; they’re not idiots. And the foreign media don’t get the whole picture – they’re biased. I don’t think foreign pressure will help us; it will just fuel discussions about ideologies. It won’t solve the deeper problems we have to deal with. For twenty years there has been political stagnation. Democracy is about choosing. There is nothing to choose. There is no proper alternative to Berlusconi because all the opposition political parties have failed. They can’t even agree about what to eat for lunch.” 

Italian Elena Cettolin, also a PhD candidate at the School of Business and Economics, is convinced: there are still free voices in Italy. “There’s no dictatorship, that’s ridiculous. But it’s true that Berlusconi is trying to silence the critical newspapers and channels.” It might be good if the European Union took some action against Italy’s prime minister, she thinks. “Berlusconi’s recent strategy is to present himself as a victim of conspiracies. He says, ‘No politician has been prosecuted as many times as me’. I can imagine that his reaction to the EU might be the same, that it’s just a conspiracy of left-wing European parties. And then it won’t work.” Like Della Malva, Cettolin thinks that the main problem is not Berlusconi himself, but rather the absence of effective left-wing parties. “At the moment there is no alternative to Berlusconi. The left-wing parties have neither a leader nor a programme. They’re extremely divided.”

“It’s simple. European institutions shouldn’t be used to interfere in a debate like this. This is a competence of the member state. The issue should be solved at home, within the national parliament”, says Marco Zinzani, an Italian PhD candidate in European law. “Italy is still a democracy; the laws are still respected.”

 

Riki Janssen

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