Silvio butters RAI, sandwiches media

Italo media: simpatico for the devil?

ROME — Those worried about the growing consolidation of media power in the U.S. will absolutely be chewing their nails over the New Italy of Silvio Berlusconi.

The right-wing coalition of the premier-cum-media-magnate seems intent on installing ideologically sympathetic figures in virtually every key spot in the country’s pop culture — and discontent is widening.

The latest focus of consternation: The appointment in February of a RAI board headed by former Italian constitutional court president Antonio Baldassare. Opponents say Baldassare is too close to Berlusconi to run the pubcaster without favoring the prime minister’s private media interests.

While Baldassare says RAI will provide objective info and not be in the service of any government, the network has a long history of politically biased news coverage, the direction of which depends on the regime in power.

“RAI is too important,” says opposition leader Francesco Rutelli. “Information in Italy cannot have a single owner.”

Tight TV grip

Despite Berlusconi’s campaign promise to resolve the conflict-of-interest issues regarding his media ownership, the prime minister still controls the three networks of commercial TV powerhouse Mediaset.

His critics charge that with his added influence over RAI through the new board, virtually all TV news and information reaching Italian viewers will be filtered to some degree through the government.

“Italy is about to become the only European Union country and the only major Western democracy where the country’s TV media, both public and private, are controlled directly or indirectly by the power in place,” press-freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said recently.

Demonstrations against the government’s media policies are becoming a daily occurrence in Italy, and disapproval from abroad is growing louder. At the recent Rotterdam and Berlin Film Festivals, petitions were circulated and European film industry members voiced their concern over the Berlusconi government’s intervention in the film sector.

Controversy was sparked earlier in the year when Lino Micciche, head of the National Film School, was given his walking papers, to be replaced by sociologist Francesco Alberoni — who has zero experience in the film industry.

The new government’s key problem in making a clean sweep of cultural posts, perhaps, is that most of Italy’s experienced film industry leaders lean to the left. This explains the tardiness in finding suitable candidates for some jobs.

Slow right turn

After six years in office during a boom period, Angelo Guglielmi’s term as president of state film production-distribution banner Istituto Luce was not renewed in November. He is being replaced in a caretaker capacity by Cinecitta VP Antonio More until the government decides what to do with Luce, which ultimately may be shuttered.

Uncertainty also hangs over the future of Italia Cinema, the international promotion agency for Italian production, which is in limbo after political disagreements forced the resignation of president Luciana Castellina.

A changeover also seems likely at Cinecitta studios, as the mandates of prexy Felice Laudadio and CEO Fabiano Fabiani come up for renewal in December.

The most delicate question of all is the Venice Film Festival, inching toward its 59th edition in August with no fest director in place.

Paolo Baratta was ousted in December from his position as president of the Biennale arts council, which controls the Venice fest, a full five months before the end of his term. His replacement, Franco Bernabe, says he expects to appoint a successor to fest topper Alberto Barbera by mid-March, leaving the newcomer just five months to mount the event.

Front-runner for the job was considered to be former film producer Marina Cicogna, granddaughter of Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, who founded the fest in 1932 under the Mussolini regime. But Cicogna appears to have knocked herself out of the running by announcing her appointment in the press as a done deal, raising eyebrows with her plans to make Venice a celeb-studded party and downplay the cinephile factor.

Even government reps admit that, given the short lead time, they need to appoint an experienced person, regardless of political affiliations.

Leading candidates now appear to be former Locarno chief Marco Muller, ex-Taormina fest topper Enrico Ghezzi and journalist and fest organizer Giorgio Gosetti, who was vice director during Gillo Pontecorvo’s tenure.

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