Italian right tries to take 'biased' shows off the air

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The Independent Online

Members of Italy's right-wing government are attempting to have four current affairs programmes taken off the air until after local elections at the end of the month, claiming that their presenters are partisan and could unduly affect the results.

The majority of the government coalition have put their names to a motion that asks the parliamentary committee controlling the state broadcaster RAI to halt transmission of Primo Piano, a night-time analytical news programme; Il Fatto, a current affairs magazine; Porta a Porta, a popular talk show, and Sciuscia, another often controversial talk show. The motion alleges that "on many occasions" the presenters failed to guarantee impartiality and complains of "numerous episodes of strong one-sidedness" during the last election campaign.

The opposition has responded with horror, accusing the government of a blatant attempt to censor the media. Vincenzo Vita, of the Democrats of the Left, said: "Is this not a step toward instating a dictatorship?" The daily newspaper La Repubblica accused the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, of following through on a threat to hunt down Enzo Biagi and Michele Santoro, the presenters of two of the programmes.

Mr Berlusconi seemed to confirm the worst fears of many last month when he launched an attack on a trio of television personalities including Biagi and Santoro, claiming they had made "criminal use of public television."

But, under attack for his outburst from the Italian President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, as well as opposition and media voices, Mr Berlusconi denied he had demanded the firing of the presenters or was attempting to censor the media.

If the motion is passed, it would silence Biagi, a liberal figure of the journalistic establishment, and the left-leaning Santoro, Italy's most popular talkshow host, as well as Bruno Vespa, who is usually seen as sympathetic to the centre-right and whose show was chosen as the vessel for Mr Berlusconi's pre-election broadcast last year.

There was consternation across the world when Mr Berlusconi's coalition won last year's parliamentary elections and their leader refused to relinquish his media empire or put it into a blind trust. His company, Mediaset, owns three national television channels. The remaining three, the state-owned RAI, are traditionally run by government appointees, in effect giving Mr Berlusconi influence over channels that between them have 90 per cent of the television audience. In addition, he has vast newspaper and publishing holdings.

Members of parliament met Claudio Petruccioli, the president of the commission that oversees the state broadcaster, yesterday. He called the motion "inadmissable" and pointed to its possible contravention of laws that dictate equal access to the press. It was not, he said, the business of parliamentarians to decide such issues.

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