2018 10 – News From Italy

Listening to Italy

by Orecchiette


Silvio Berlusconi proudly announced the revived unity of the centre-right coalition after a recent summit meeting. That is: Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Fi), Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy). The reason behind the occasion was Berlusconi’s personal and party relaunch and his unflagging energy for maximising publicity. La Repubblica reported his supporters’ joyous ovation :“Silvio, Silvio”.

The glaringly discordant fact is that Salvini’s Lega leapfrogged Fi spectacularly in the General Election earlier this year. Polls suggest that it has increased its vote share from 17% to around 30% in comparison with 8% at Fi and an insignificant 3.8% for FdI. This represents a discouraging fall of some 6% for Fi. The polls for September also put Lega slightly ahead or roughly level with M5S. At the election M5S had almost double the percentage of Lega.

As far as this new unity was concerned, Salvini said that the coalition was only relevant to him in local and regional elections. Then La Repubblica showed a diminutive “starry-eyed” Meloni at a press conference next to a large and characteristically sloppy-looking Steve Bannon. La Repubblica (22 September) quoted Bannon in their headline saying that “the National Sovereignty Revolution will start from Italy. Salvini and Meloni are like Trump”. The enthusiasm for Bannon was not shared within the coalition and Antonio Tajani , the Fi President of the European Commission said that he had not attended for health reasons.

Meanwhile The Five Star Movement (M5S) have been dealing with a controversy caused by Rocco Casalino the spokesman to the Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Conte is not a politician and was appointed as a strategy to allow the two election winners Luigi di Maio (M5S) and Salvini (Lega) to share the actual power – they are called Deputy PMs. In reality Conte is powerless and some call him a puppet. Apparently when Conte is asked a difficult question he will look to Casalino for assistance or approval.

Casalino was recently heard on tape threatening that “the knives would be out” in The Ministry of Finance if money wasn’t released for one of Di Maio’s central projects. It was swiftly clarified that the targets would be not be Finance Minister Tria, but his technical staff. No one was fooled. There was some tentative feet-shuffling suggesting that this might be a fake tape, but the veracity has never been denied. Berlusconi made a great deal of political capital out of it saying that, as a rough translation, Casalino should have been sent packing. As writer Antonio Ghirelli said in La Repubblica (22 Sept), “The spokesperson should be two steps behind….he shouldn’t be the news”. What would Alastair Campbell think?

From founders Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio’s days the M5S have always had total control of their candidates and elected members. Press conferences and interviews with the press were forbidden for many years and the penalty was excommunication. Rocco Casalino has been close to the controlling centre of the M5S almost since its inception and, unlike Conte, has stood for political office. He has worked as an M5S Parliamentary spokesman since 2013, taking the post with Conte on his appointment.

The M5S have a paradoxical attitude to openness. Elected members now have, unavoidably, more freedom although within tight constraints that have moved some elected politicians to become Independents (e.g.: Frederico Pizzarotti, Mayor of Parma). The Movement claim to be highly democratic because they give members the opportunity to vote on issues over the internet, (recently the site was hacked for the second time). In this “democratic” context it is ironic that Di Maio has recently attacked the press “it isn’t a free press” rather one that attacks M5S with “every type of falsity and inference”.  (huffingtonpost.it 10 Sept). Di Maio is considering how to curtail “the propaganda of the establishment”.

During the summer the Salvini and Di Maio establishment proposed Marcello Foa as candidate for President of Rai, the state broadcaster. Foa’s candidacy to this influential position has been highly controversial. He is not overtly political, has an academic and media background but is seen by his detractors as having two flaws. He is right-wing and anti-gay, anti-migrant and anti-vaccines for children starting school (a current controversy following the increased incidence of measles and tb). In these he concurs with Matteo Salvini. He has also been responsible for several pieces of “notizie false” known as fake news. Roberto Fico, President of the Lower House and M5S member, sees a straight conflict of interest in the candidacy and he further bangs it home by questioning his impartiality for his other part-time job as a University media lecturer. The Press Federation are not the only organisation to see this as a political appointment and a threat to their independence “after the promises of a free and autonomous Rai”.

The state broadcaster has 15 television and 7 radio channels and a large deficit. It is part-funded by a licence fee, the “Rai tax” of about 100 euro per annum and also by advertising. In 2005 the government of Silvio Berlusconi proposed a partial privatization by selling 20% of the  ownership. The plan was eventually suspended when it was obvious that the move would lose it a considerable amount of money. It would also have opened it to be part-controlled by Mediaset, the other private broadcaster, which is owned by Berlusconi and family.

The first vote for Foa as President was opposed by Berlusconi’s Fi and by the centre-left, Partito Democratico, (Pd). Salvini and Di Maio then proposed that this be revisited. By this time Berlusconi had changed his mind. Foa had worked for Berlusconi’s Mediaset in the past and it is thought that he envisages Foa could be of use to him and to the Company. The turn of events, manipulating a winning hand to Berlusconi, marginalising Di Maio, was according to Il Fatto Quotidiano “Berlusconi’s revenge and the end of the M5S’s innocence”

The 82-year-old Berlusconi is revitalised and making plans for the future. On 23 September Silvio Buzzanca was quoting him in La Repubblica saying that Di Maio was “an enemy of liberty” and that 95% of the Government’s programme was “ours”. And Berlusconi declared he is “going to stand in the next election to save the country that I love”