Italy's RAI journalists strike over budget streamlining, complain of censorship and media repression

ROME — Some journalists at Italy’s state-run RAI went on strike Monday to protest budget streamlining and what they said was an increasingly repressive atmosphere in Italy for media under the government of Premier Giorgia Meloni.

The 24-hour RAI strike is the latest protest by Italian journalists against what they say are threats to freedom of the press and expression in Italy, including criminal investigations of journalists and suspected episodes of censorship. Not all journalists participated and RAI newscasts were still airing, though in a somewhat reduced form.

RAI, which controls Italy’s three main public TV channels, has said it is working to transform itself into a modern digital media company and cannot make new hires. In a statement responding to the strike, it said RAI isn’t putting at risk any of the rights or jobs of current staff and is “ever more committed to safeguarding the values of pluralism and freedom of expression.”

The strike came just days after the media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders downgraded Italy five notches in its annual index of press freedom. At No. 46 out of 180, Italy moved into the “problematic” category of countries alongside other EU members Poland and Hungary.

Among other things, RSF cited reports of a proposed acquisition of Italian news agency AGI by a lawmaker of the League party, a coalition partner in Meloni’s right-wing government. The lawmaker already controls three conservative dailies. Last month, AGI journalists went on strike to protest the proposed sale from state-controlled ENI.

RAI television journalists, and RAI radio journalists two weeks ago, are protesting company budget tightening, including hiring freezes, job elimination by attrition and staff reorganization. They say the streamlining has the ultimate aim of “reducing RAI to becoming the megaphone of the government.”

“I am very concerned about what is happening in Italy,” said Daniele Macheda, secretary of the union USIGRAI. At a news conference Monday at the foreign press association, Macheda called the AGI case in particular “a symptom of a system that doesn’t work and risks bringing into difficulty an asset of democracy, which is free and independent information.”

RAI was in the news recently over an episode of alleged censorship when it abruptly canceled a planned monologue by an antifascist writer to air April 25, when Italy commemorates its liberation from fascist rule. The text was highly critical of Meloni, whose party traces its origins in Italy’s neo-fascist movement.

RAI said the contract was canceled for financial reasons. Meloni herself posted the text on her Facebook account, but she has also criticized RAI’s investigative reporting. Most recently, she publicly attacked RAI over an investigative program about the migration deal she struck with Albania to build two migrant processing centers there. The deal has been criticized by left-wing opposition parties and human rights groups.

“Help me send to (Prime Minister) Edi Rama and the Albanian people our solidarity for having been lynched for having merely helped our country,” Meloni told her Brothers of Italy party at a campaign rally April 28.

Journalists in Italy, including at RAI, have long lamented the use of threatened or real defamation lawsuits or criminal complaints by politicians, businesspeople and others who are the subject of investigative reporting.

In recent weeks, the editor of Domani newspaper, Emilio Fittipaldi, was summoned to answer questions by members of Italy’s anti-mafia parliamentary commission about a criminal probe into the source of media leaks about top politicians. Three Domani journalists are currently under criminal investigation by prosecutors in Perugia for their reporting on Meloni’s defense minister and risk jailtime if convicted.

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