"Moment of Truth" for Press Freedom in Italy As Journalists Warn of Threat to Newspapers

The International Federation of Journalists today called on political leaders in Italy and the European Union to confront the growing media crisis in Italy following an appeal yesterday by journalists' leaders at Corriere Della Sera, the country's biggest-selling daily, for action to protect editorial independence at the paper.

Journalists raised the alarm as proposals for the future of crisis-ridden car company Fiat threatened to undermine the structure that protects independent journalism at the newspaper. The IFJ is particularly concerned that changes will take place that may mean Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his media empire might have influence over the newspaper.

"Italy's broadcast media are already compromised by the notorious conflicts of interest of the Prime Minister Berlusconi, who has a stranglehold on public and private media," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "Now there are fears that some of the countries leading newspapers - including Corriere Della Sera, La Stampa and La Gazetta dello Sport - could come under improper corporate or political influence."

The IFJ, the world's largest journalists' group, is writing to European Commission President Romano Prodi calling for a public statement on the media situation in Italy, which, it says, "has reached a stage that is intolerable and untenable in a modern democracy."

The Editorial Committee at Corriere della Sera, which represents the paper's 380 journalists and 2,000 contributors, issued a statement yesterday demanding assurances that editorial independence will be protected. Their concern is that proposals for the future of Fiat will undermine the industry consortium - including Fiat - that controls the company RCS which administers the newspaper. The country's third biggest daily La Stampa is totally owned by Fiat.

The IFJ is supporting the journalists and the national journalists union, the Federazione Nazionale della Stampa Italiana, which is also demanding assurances regarding editorial independence. The union is planning a general strike by journalists on December 20th and calling for a summit meeting with publishers to mobilise the industry in defence of pluralism and press freedom.

"This is a moment of truth for press freedom in Italy," said Aidan White, "It is the moment for politicians to stop wringing their hands and making pious declarations. Continued silence over the media situation in Italy by the leaders of the European Union is not acceptable." The IFJ protested earlier this year to the European Commission over the impact of the Italian media crisis on some enlargement countries where public broadcasting links with political parties remains controversial.

The European Parliament recently called for new action by the European Commission over concentration of media ownership. The Commission has yet to respond. "Journalists are speaking out for their rights and politicians must support them," said Aidan White, "The crisis in Italy has implications for all European Union countries and enlargement states. It is vital that political leaders speak out. If they remain silent there is a danger that fundamental freedoms will be either stolen by stealth or lost because of political complacency and negligence."

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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries