The entry into the political arena of media magnate Silvio Berlusconi not much more than a year ago has brought sweeping changes to the average Italian’s awareness of government issues: It has made politics the country’s No. 1 topic of conversation at dinner tables, bus stops and around the office water cooler.
But perhaps the most drastic change of all is the skepticism with which folks up and down the peninsula have begun to view television newscasts.
A recent survey conducted by national marketing and research group SWG (Servizi Integrati di Ricerca) reveals a dramatic rise in the percentage of TV viewers who believe news services here to be heavily conditioned by the respective station managements’ political sympathies.
A similar study in 1991 showed that 64.8% of those polled questioned the credibility and objectivity of TV news, but that figure has now climbed to 75%.
Before corruption and kickback scandals felled the centrist regime that had governed Italy since the end of World War II, political bias on pubcaster RAI’s newscasts was virtually considered par for the course.
RAI-1 towed the Christian-Democrat line, RAI-2 lobbied for the Socialist Party, and RAI-3 carried the flag of the Democratic Left, which rose from the ashes of Italy’s former Communist Party. Though RAI’s efforts to install impartial news teams have failed to convince most observers of their total objectivity, attention has now shifted to Berlusconi’s Fininvest webs.
SWG’s findings show “the diminishing credibility of Fininvest news, probably in connection with the embittered turn of the political crisis.”
A full 27.7% of those polled found Fininvest news to be the least objective, while 16.3% pointed their finger at RAI, and 8.8% indicated print news as the worst culprit. Some 41% of the respondents believe all print and TV news to be biased.
Since Berlusconi resigned as prime minister and was replaced by Lamberto Dini, newscasts on his Fininvest webs continue to lavish the former leader with the lion’s share of coverage, blatantly attacking any government move which may stand in the way of his eventual re-election.
The frequently ridiculed director of Rete 4’s news service, Emilio Fede, gave short shrift to Dini’s appointment Dec. 13, opting instead to prepare a special called “A Government That Lasted Too Short a Time.”
With Italia 1’s news, headed by Paolo Liguori, not far behind in its idolatry of the boss, both webs’ news credibility is perceived to have all but disappeared.
The SWG study tracks a dip of 8% to 4% in the number of viewers who find Italia 1’s news to be the most trustworthy. Rete 4’s tally has fallen from 6.4% to 2.8%.
Fininvest flagship Canale 5 has long enjoyed a reputation for news objectivity under the guidance of chief Enrico Mentana.
Critics have suggested, however, that Mentana’s much-touted impartiality may be part of a Fininvest strategy to push the illusion of a pluralist information service.
Over the past year, SWG charts a drop in the number of viewers who take Canale 5’s news as gospel from 28.8% to 21.3%.
The survey also reveals that 50% of those polled believe television to be the most powerful means of influencing electoral results.