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Right to know; thousands protest

Thousands protest Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi's press attacks
Thousands protest Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi's press attacks

via IPI

Thousands marched the streets in Rome on 3 October to defend press freedom and freedom of information in the face of continuous attacks by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, reports the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

EFJ reports that Italian media estimate that 150,000 to 300,000 people showed up for the massive protest in Rome. EFJ congratulated its Italian affiliate, the Federazione della Stampa Italiana (FNSI) for successfully organising one of the largest demonstrations in Rome this past weekend promoting the theme: "Right to Know. Duty to Inform."

According to EFJ, Berlusconi has a history of threatening press freedom and is known for political interference in media and attacks on journalists who challenge the link between his private life and public affairs.

Berlusconi is the first head of government to take legal action against Italian and European media, including "La Repubblica", "L'Unità", "El Pais" and "le Nouvel Observateur", reports EFJ. His lawyers have asked for millions of Euros in compensation, alleging that articles about his private life were "defamatory."

Index on Censorship comments that Berlusconi has urged entrepreneurs to cut advertising in "La Repubblica". The government also continues to try to eliminate the few investigative or politically critical shows on television. Six main national TV channels are directly or indirectly controlled by Berlusconi (three belong to his media empire, and the other three are RAI state channels).

As he muzzles the press, Berlusconi hides behind immunity. The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) says "La Repubblica" is being sued for defamation by Berlusconi for repeatedly publishing 10 questions asking him to explain his extra-marital relationships and behaviour, the subjects of widely reported public scandals this year.

Undaunted, Berlusconi has also criticised the European Commission for interfering in national affairs and threatened to block the European Council if Commissioners failed to "control" their spokespersons.

"Is it right that, in Italy, you're a journalist and you criticise Mr. Berlusconi even a little bit and you actually have to worry about your position and your future?" said Ezio Mauro, "La Repubblica" editor-in-chief. "That is a big problem in our everyday life as journalists because that can make you self-censor information that you're going to write about."

Smaller demonstrations took place in Berlin, Paris, Brussels and London, reports EFJ. According to the International Press Institute (IPI), an Italian state news show criticised the protests and denied that press freedom was in any danger.

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