Italian Election 94: Italy's new voice of the right enters fray: The Grand Old Man of journalism refuses to be Berlusconi's mouthpiece and launches his own newspaper

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE Italian election campaign today gives birth to a most improbable child. Aged 85 next month, Indro Montanelli, the Grand Old Man of Italian journalism, having refused to become a mouthpiece for tycoon-politician Silvio Berlusconi, launches a new, independent, daily newspaper.

The title is La Voce - the voice. Underneath in smaller letters: ' di Indro Montanelli'. It will be the voice of the right, but the liberal, democratic, illuminated right, in sharp dissonance with the right represented by Mr Berlusconi and his allies.

'I am a man of the right' he says. 'If I lived in England, I would vote Conservative, not Labour . . . I stand for traditional values which you can never change - honesty, efficiency, decency . . . They (Mr Berlusconi and his allies) are a parody of the right. I despise that right.'

The launch is a result of the latest battle in the remarkable career of Mr Montanelli, former war correspondent, witty commentator, author, historian and gentleman. Sentenced to death by the Fascists in 1943 and shot in the legs by left-wing terrorists in 1975, he is used to paying a price for his rugged independence.

Twenty years ago, already a towering but controversially conservative figure, he left his beloved Corriere della Sera after 37 years and founded his own newspaper, Il Giornale. Owned primarily by the journalists, it fell into financial troubles and was taken over by Mr Berlusconi, who later put it, at least nominally, in the hands of his brother Paolo, to get round the media monopoly laws.

In January, when Mr Berlusconi decided to enter politics and founded his own party, Forza Italia, he gave the Giornale - once again in dire financial straits - the choice: become a mouthpiece of the Berlusconi campaign or be starved to death of cash. Montanelli quit.

'I was forced to found a new newspaper when I became aware of the incompatibility between my independence and the will of the proprietor - who until he entered politics had been an exemplary proprietor,' he said.

Tall and gaunt, Mr Montanelli walks with a stick - a reminder of the terrorists' bullets - and looks physically frail. But when he speaks he lights up, as lucid and vital as a 20-year-old.

At 85 he could have sat back and enjoyed the rewards of his fame. But he refuses to be a monument: 'The birds come and shit on your head.' He thought of founding a weekly, then Paolo Mieli, the editor of the Corriere della Sera, offered to move aside and make him the editor, with himself as co- editor.

He was about to accept when his own staff begged him not to abandon them. 'They were like my own children. I could not leave them.'

A newspaper founded around a man of 85 is not what one would call a long-term investment, but La Voce had no trouble finding funds. A group of small businessmen, well- wishers, including Benetton and - with a symbolic share - the Economist and the journalists themselves have provided the capital.

Some 3,000 journalists applied to join it. But 55 out of the 77 journalists are from Il Giornale, which now oozes the Berlusconi line.

At a time when Italian journalism, like other professions, is coming under suspicion of corruption, Mr Montanelli stands for honesty, fairness, clarity and respect for one's opponents and for the readers.

'If I have two years I can establish a newspaper which can live on without me,' he says. 'I have an able staff - it is they who put the paper together. I gave it my name.'

La Voce has to have a circulation of 100,000 to survive. And, in a crowded market, Mr Montanelli knows it may not, but he is romantically philosophical. 'It is great to be defeated in a beautiful battle.'

His first task is to make his voice heard clearly before the elections, five days away. But this appals him. 'If I had known how things would go I would have put off our launch until after the elections,' he said last week.

'Who should I advise our readers to support? There is such mediocrity, there is no-one. Who is the least awful? I don't know. It is a torment.'

Leading article, page 15

(Photograph omitted)