Almost nostalgic documentary on Mussolini, excessive speaking time for the populists and nationalists in power, complacent interviews… RAI, directed by the Eurosceptic and homophobic pro-Russian Marcello Foa, no longer hides its breaches of plurality and ethics.

For seven days he said nothing. Then, after a week, the very sovereignist president of RAI (the Italian public broadcaster), Marcello Foa, appointed by the populist majority made up of the Five Star Movement and the League, finally conceded on Sunday that the report on the 74and anniversary of the death of Benito Mussolini, April 28, 1945, was “disproportionate. There was a mistake”. Broadcast on a regional antenna of public television, we saw for about two minutes a nostalgic ceremony in Predappio, the birthplace of the Duce, presented as a sort of rural meeting without the slightest distance and a reminder of the horrors of fascism. A former auxiliary of the Social Republic of Salò, aged 92, expressed her sadness there and assured that at the time “everything was working and we had a lot of hopes”. A granddaughter of the dictator rejoiced at the “affection” shown for the occasion, while young people in black shirts, Italian flags in their left hands, right arms outstretched, paid homage to the “mussolini camera” and demanded the return of fascism. Unheard of on RAI, pushing the national association of resistance fighters to denounce the report as “two minutes of contempt of Italy”. Finally, the editor-in-chief of the local editorial staff of RAI submitted his resignation on Saturday.

“This subject has matured in a general political climate where even journalists who have nothing to do with the far right allow this kind of reporting to pass,” laments a public television official who prefers to remain anonymous. Because, since the populist coalition came to power in June 2018, the tide has turned in Viale Mazzini, RAI’s headquarters in Rome. “RAI has always been considered the spoils of war of the winners of the elections”, recalls the TV critic of Corriere della Sera Aldo Grasso. The arrival of populists and sovereignists was no exception to the rule, in particular to the benefit of the leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, who combines the seats of Minister of the Interior and Vice-President of the Council.

According to the Communications Safeguards Authority, in January alone, the latter would alone have occupied 15.5% of the speaking time on the country’s main television news, that of RAI Uno (entrusted to relatives of the Five Stars) and 20.5% on that of RAI Due led by Gennaro Sangiuliano, former local leader of the neofascist MSI, author of a biography Putin, life of a tsar and great friend of Matteo Salvini. “By comparison, Nicola Zingaretti [actuel secrétaire du Parti démocrate, ndlr] had only 1.6% of airtime on RAI Uno and 1.8% on RAI Due’s newscast,” rises the opposition of left.

At RAI management, we minimize: “It’s true that RAI Due’s television news is clearly sovereigntist, but it has little audience. Moreover, in general, television information no longer counts much compared to social networks. If Matteo Salvini is so present on the small screen, it is because he is very active on Twitter and Facebook and the TVs follow. is justified at the top of Viale Mazzini.

cut whistles

Representative of the Democratic Party (PD) within the parliamentary vigilance committee on RAI, the Democrat Michele Anzaldi no longer counts the breaches of the rules of ethics and pluralism: whistles accompanying in a public meeting the Deputy Prime Minister (Five Stars) Luigi Di Maio, cut to the JT, through the broadcast of stolen images of a judicial interrogation of the father of the former President of the Council (PD) Matteo Renzi, “RAI no longer fulfills its public service role, it is totally unbalanced, he denounces, you have to go to the commercial channels to see serious programs of political in-depth study. The sovereigntist RAI also suppressed satirical programs because they scratched the rulers. The situation is worse than in the time of Silvio Berlusconi because he faced professionals who could possibly say no to him. Marcello Foa is not a guarantor president, but he is totally linked to the new power”.

Eurosceptic, pro-Russian, pro-Assad and homophobic, Marcello Foa, aged 55, was indeed imposed last summer by bending the rules for appointing the head of public broadcasting. The opposition tried, in vain, to oppose the appointment of this former journalist from the Giornale of the Berlusconi family who on several occasions relayed fake news on social networks without ever denying them. Arrived at the head of the RAI, this one largely encroaches on his competences and tries to impose his men and his choices on the managing director Fabrizio Salini, appointed by the Five Stars.

“The novelty compared to the Berlusconi years is that there is practically no more autonomy or even reactions. Not the slightest protest strike. We are witnessing an unprecedented occupation of positions of power with a distribution between the two majority formations. But it must be said that the previous government of Matteo Renzi allowed this situation because, thinking of remaining in power, he reformed RAI by putting it more under the control of the executive”, considers a program author who – a sign of the populist RAI times – also prefers his name not to be published (“There’s a lot of pressure”). Like, for example, on Fabio Fazio, one of RAI’s star presenters who became Matteo Salvini’s media bugbear because he was suspected of left-wing sympathies and of having notably been a regular guest on his flagship program Che tempo che fa (“the weather”) the writer Roberto Saviano.

“Self-censorship”

Targeted by the Minister of the Interior who publicly and daily claims his head, on the pretext that his fee would be too high, Fabio Fazio, accused “to be a communist with a full wallet”, was forced to take responsibility for his trip to Paris himself to be able to interview Emmanuel Macron in the midst of the conflict between the current populist Italian government and the French head of state.

“RAI Uno is more institutional, it is not as sovereignist as RAI Due”, estimates a journalist of the television news of the first chain, “but there is self-censorship on certain themes, starting with the mismanagement of the city of Rome, led by the Five Star Mayor Virginia Raggi”. Between complacent interviews with the leader of the American alt-right Steve Bannon or the Russian ultranationalist and anti-Semite Alexandre Douguine and the systematic support for Matteo Salvini, RAI Due claims an unbridled sovereignism. Every evening, the JT of the chainandfollows this line with an alignment with Putin’s Russia and a visceral hatred of Macron’s France,” summarizes the critic Aldo Grasso.

By small touches, it is the narration of the country which evolves on the airwaves of the peninsula. This year, the traditional song festival of San Remo did not invite foreign artists. “Exclusively for budgetary reasons and artistic choice, was explained in essence to Viale Mazzini. It doesn’t make sense to invite foreign singers who come just to promote their albums.” Still, the outcome of the competition, in mid-February, gave rise to a nationalist and xenophobic wave. Acclaimed by the jury made up of professionals while the popular jury had preferred another competitor, the winner, Alessandro Mahmood, born in Milan to a Sardinian mother and an Egyptian father, was strongly taken to task by many spectators encouraged by a tweet from Matteo Salvini: “Mahmood… what can I say… it’s the most beautiful Italian song? ! ? […] what do you say about it ?”

National anthem

“The voting system must be fixed”, for his part bid Marcello Foa, stigmatizing the gap separating, according to him, the elites of the professional jury and the popular vote. “The public must feel represented”, insisted the president of RAI who, a few weeks earlier, and after years of protests from listeners, had decided to have the Italian national anthem played, broadcast twice a day on public radio by the Orchester symphonique de la RAI and no longer by the Berlin Philharmonic. “The Italians first”, hammers Matteo Salvini. “General-interest television is naturally closely linked to national identity, mi do we go in the direction of Viale Mazzini, as in France where national products are favored, in particular to limit American influence. Gastronomic journalist, Vittorio Castellani, better known under the name of “chef Kumalé” was in any case clearly dismissed from RAI for xenophilia. As part of the hugely popular culinary reality show titled la Prova del cuoco and animated by the former fiancée of Matteo Salvini, the man had a section on the cuisines of the world. His collaboration was suspended in October. “They told me that the program wanted to focus on Italian traditions and dishes and that preference would be given to multiregionalism rather than multiculturalism,” he confides. The climate that one breathes at RAI is very worrying. The country withdraws into itself and it becomes unpopular to talk about certain topics. Starting with immigration and integration. television fiction Tutto il mondo è paese (“the world is a village”), inspired by the mayor of Riace, Domenico Lucano, who had transformed his village in Calabria into a land of welcome for the underprivileged, has never been broadcast. She is officially awaiting the end of the investigations for organization of marriages of convenience and fraud at the expense of the State.

“From now on, we self-censor. We avoid presenting to RAI fictional projects that address certain themes,” says a producer. Conceived and produced well before the arrival of the new government, the television films broadcast in recent months do not marry the nationalist, anti-immigrant and ultra-traditionalist discourse carried by the League. “I don’t believe that will change and I don’t have any signs of it. The current head of fiction at RAI is a very autonomous person and has not been appointed by the new management. stresses Giancarlo Leone, president of the association of audiovisual producers, but he acknowledges “that a producer who wanted to tell an integration story would encounter some difficulties”.

RAI’s new editorial plan for next season is being drawn up. While political tensions are exacerbated between the League and the Five Stars, the latter have been trying for several weeks to mark their difference in Viale Mazzini by seeking in particular to limit the influence of Marcello Foa. But future programs could reflect Matteo Salvini’s even greater grip if, as all the polls indicate, he emerges as the big winner in the European elections.