Italy: Thousands demonstrate for free press-NY Times

October 12, 2009

[CJ Hinke of FACT comments: I have a dream–of tens of thousands of Thais marching on government to demand a free press and an uncensored Internet. Only sheep are censored!]

Thousands Defend Role of Press in Italy

Elisabetta Povoledo

The New York Times: October 3, 2009

Tens of thousands of protesters thronged to a historic square in one of Europe’s largest capitals on Saturday to defend press freedom amid concerns of growing government interference in how the news is reported in Italy.

“Free information, not on a leash,” Franco Siddi, the secretary general of the Italian Press Federation, told a crowd in the Piazza del Popolo that organizers estimated to be at least 300,000 strong. Police officials said the number was closer to 60,000.

The group planned the Rome event “after a crescendo of episodes” suggested that the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was trying to exert pressure on the national news media, Mr. Siddi said later backstage.

On Friday, Mr. Berlusconi dismissed the protest as “a real farce.” Speaking at a political convention in northern Italy, he said, “Freedom is far greater in Italy than any other Western country,” the news agency ANSA reported.

For years accusations of conflict of interest have dogged Mr. Berlusconi, who owns the country’s leading private television networks and a publishing empire. His government also oversees the state broadcaster RAI.

In recent months, he has expressed impatience with the European news media and, in particular, those outlets that have riveted people with accounts of racy scandals involving the 73-year-old prime minister and a clutch of young women.

“If the king is naked, we should say he is naked,” Mr. Siddi told the crowd. “That applies to everyone, even the premier.”

Opposition leaders were cautious about the impact the demonstration could have on the government’s staying power, despite growing grumblings from within Mr. Berlusconi’s coalition.

“For now it’s enough that so many people came out to defend such an important principle,” said Walter Veltroni, formerly the leader of the center-left opposition.

Mr. Berlusconi is not new to accusations of trying to intimidate his critics in the news media. Journalists who have crossed him in the past have faced lawsuits, and in 2002 three television personalities were taken off the air after criticizing Mr. Berlusconi on RAI.

This year, after a seemingly endless series of spicy revelations regarding the prime minister, his government went on the offensive. In recent weeks, Mr. Berlusconi has filed a series of lawsuits against newspapers in Italy, France and Spain that he accuses of biased reporting.

La Repubblica, a daily here, is being sued over a list of 10 questions regarding Mr. Berlusconi’s private life.

“This is the first time that a politician has been so afraid of questions posed by a newspaper that he brought it to court,” said Ezio Mauro, the editor of La Repubblica, in an essay published Friday.

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