RAI Crosses Swords With Politicians Over Censorship

While the Pentagon lays down rules for wartime news coverage, the Italian government is meeting with major, and effective, opposition to interference with RAI news reports.

A chorus of protest from press and political circles against pubcaster RAI-TV’s decision not to broadcast an interview with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on Dec. 28, forced RAI general director Gianni Pasquarelli to withdraw his veto and let the interview run at 10 p.m. on Jan. 11.

Saddam said nothing new – he harshly criticized the U.S., left little room for negotiations, and predicted Iraq would win any war. But the interview, first banned, then released, has precipitated RAI into a flaming battle over the role of the pubcaster’s news coverage and its autonomy from the government.

Pasquarelli motivated his original nyet on grounds that giving the Iraqi dictator airtime might “upset the efforts being made to find a peaceful solution to the Gulf crisis,” particularly at a time when Italy was taking its turn at the presidency of the European Community. Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis was particularly against putting Saddam on the air.

A short week later, Pasquarelli found the times had changed, viewers were waiting and it was possible to air the interview, even if he didn’t like its “tone.” Vespa reported he was “satisfied.”

But RAI prexy Enrico Manca was not. The whole affair, wrote Manca in a communique, “has uselessly damaged the image of the public service.” The bottom line, for Manca, wasn’t a question of censorship, but of evaluation; “not whether to broadcast the Hussein interview, but whether it was timely to make it in the first place.”

The battle at RAI has become incandescent, with party politics complicating the issue of autonomy at the pubcaster’s newsdesks. Frontal attacks have been launched on Christian Democrat Pasquarelli by the Socialists, who think he has “made himself perfectly ridiculous” and by the Communists, who – for other reasons – candidly call him “a problem for RAI.”

However, before the papers had finished mulling over censorship of RAI-1’s scoop, a new episode raised the question of state control over public broadcasting all over again.

This time RAI-1 radio news and its news editor, Livio Zanetti, came under fire for having divulged the names of 535 Italians who belonged to a secret right-wing armed organization known as Gladio in the 1960s.

Gladio (which means sword) is one of several organizations in the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Sweden and Italy that emerged as a kind of counter-revolutionary base had Communism swept the West in the ’60s.

Zanetti is now under judicial investigation for violating state secrets, a charge which, if proved, could carry a prison sentence of six months to three years.

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