Journalists Warn Over Threats to Editorial Freedom As Broadcasting Crisis Deepens in Several Countries

Developments in France and Italy, where major public and private broadcasting networks are facing struggles over editorial independence, highlight a growing crisis for broadcast journalists said the International Federation of Journalists and its regional group, the European Federation of Journalists today.

"Business and political interests are squeezing the lifeblood out of independent journalism," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ and EFJ, "and European political leaders must recognise their responsibility to protect journalism from undue interference."

Leaders of the EFJ will meet in Brussels at the weekend when they will discuss, among other issues, the stranglehold which Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister now has over the country's public and private television system.

Yesterday new directors were appointed to the public service channels of RAI, and this new management structure means that Mr. Berlusconi, a media magnate in his own right, and his political allies will control five of the country's six broadcasting networks.

"It is a matter of urgency to resolve the conflict of interest whereby the country's political master also controls most of the broadcast media," said Aidan White, "This continuing conflict threatens editorial independence and democracy."

At the same time a conflict broke out in France over the future of Canal Plus. The pay television station that created the biting satirical programme "Les Guignols" has raised concerns about corporate influence in editorial matters. Under the pressure of media tycoon and head of global media corporation Vivendi Universal Jean-Marie Messier, the Council of Administration of Canal Plus has dismissed the network's Chairman Pierre Lescure. Financial imperatives have clearly taken over professionalism and independence. The case is examined today by the broadcasting regulatory body (CSA) and Canal Plus could be subject of sanctions. Several major politicians already condemned the dismissal.

"There is a fear that corporate interests are trying here to stifle the independent profile of this station," said White. "We are looking at the implications with our affiliates in France."

Similarly, there are also serious threats to editorial independence in Catalonia, where political interference grows within the public broadcaster in view of the upcoming elections. The recent changes of management at TV3 and Catalunya Radio and the attempts of the ruling nationalist party to interfere in news making hint at similar problems we see in France and Italy.

The IFJ and EFJ have called on the European Commission to speak out over the developments in Italy and to reinforce its acknowledged commitment to editorial independence. "The silence of the Commission over what is happening in Italy and the new developments in France raise real fears of political complacency in the face of threats to independent broadcasting," said the IFJ.