Di Maio Vs L’Espresso: Italy’s Old Dispute Between Politics And Media

Di Maio vs L’Espresso is only the latest in a long line of disputes between media and politics

By Edoardo Murari

In the last few days, there has been a fierce debate between the deputy prime minister, Luigi di Maio and the main Italian newspapers, in particular the Gedi publishing group. Everything started with a Facebook live recording where the Five Star Movement leader declared that “luckily we [i.e. the Italians] got vaccination for fake news many years ago” and that “many newspapers are dying, in particular those of the L’Espresso Group, because nobody reads them anymore, as they spend time altering reality instead of telling the truth”. Immediately there have been strong reactions condemning his declaration and a display of solidarity from all the biggest Italian newspapers, among which Corriere della Sera, La Stampa, Il Foglio and even Il Fatto Quotidiano, the closest publication to the government’s political line.

What is paradoxical, as Democratic Party’s Michele Anzaldi highlighted, is that if the Job and Economic Development minister is glad for the failure of a newspaper, this means that he is also glad for a loss of job places. Seen in a broader context, this clash can actually be interpreted as the eternal contrast between politics and information. The media system has the duty to inform the public opinion and, if necessary, criticize the operate of the politicians. On the other hand, the political class would like not to be bothered by any kind of media interference.

The old conflict between media and politics

Di Maio is not the first politician to make such direct attacks and, in the past, also other left and right wing politicians like Matteo Renzi, Massimo D’Alema and Silvio Berlusconi blamed journalists for articles or TV services considered inappropriate. Traditionally, the Italian media system has always been intertwined with politics. In the research “Comparing Media Systems” published in 2004, Daniel Hallin and Paolo Mancini describe what they call the Polarized Pluralist Model, characterized by integration of the media in party politics, a weaker historical development of commercial media, and a strong role of the state with public funds towards newspapers and television.

It was no surprise that, when in 2009 the 5SM emerged as a new political force with the purpose of blowing away the ancien régime represented by the old political class and the so-called mainstream media, these latter have fiercely stood against Beppe Grillo’s new party, whose militants started to get information from alternative and controversial sources, especially on some blogs on the Internet reflecting the view of reality that also many party exponents show.

The contradictions of the Five Star Movement

Coming back to his declaration, for instance, Di Maio used the term “vaccinated”. That’s funny, because one of the main political fights brought forward by the Five Star Movement for years, was the one against mandatory vaccinactions, which found its motivation in some scientific studies (proved to be totally wrong) that put in connection vaccines with autism.

To take other examples, Carlo Sibilia, undersecretary of state for the Interior ministry, in 2014 called the 1969 moon landing a “hoax”. While Barbara Lezzi, member of the Senate, explained last year that the GDP growth was due to the intense summer heat and to the boost in sales of air conditioners. And there are more examples of this kind of declarations.

The main problem nowadays is that the 5SM and the League managed to elect Marcello Foa, a journalist really close to their political views, President of the public broadcasting company (RAI), thus gaining great influence on the first cultural institution of the country. His nomination was heavily criticized because of his declarations against President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella during the political crisis of last june, but also for his ideas about gender theory and for tweeting an article about Satanic feasts, with menstrual blood, sperm and woman milk, supposedly organized by Hillary Clinton.

Changing everything so that everything can stay the same

In conclusion, it seems that from the Berlusconi period nothing has really changed. After years of fighting against the influence of political parties in the public media system, the Five Star Movement has got into it without any problem. In Italy, for every politician, the all-important thing is to get a megaphone to advertize their operate, increasing distances between the different positions instead of creating a constructive dialogue. Therefore, it is our duty as citizens to walk in this jungle with critical sense.