Italy is renowned for its incredible cultural legacy, boasting an unparalleled lineage of some of the most influential figures in Western art, including Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, Vivaldi, and Federico Fellini.
Currently, numerous important cultural organizations in the nation are embroiled in a political conflict, causing concerns about their ability to maintain their autonomy and protect the country’s heritage.
The leader of Italy’s far-right party, Giorgia Meloni, is facing accusations of attempting to assert control over the arts and media by silencing opposing views.
In the past few months, the Italian government has replaced the previous leaders of several of its esteemed museums and cultural institutions with executives who are more aligned with their views.
Brussels-based EU officials are becoming increasingly concerned.
Two politicians from parties in Meloni’s coalition requested the removal of a high-ranking museum official for providing complimentary admission to individuals who speak Arabic.
Andrea Crippa, the vice president of the League political party, accused Christian Greco, the director of the Egyptian museum in Turin, of being leftist and exhibiting “racism towards Italians and Christians.”
Elly Schlein, the head of the opposing Democratic Party, stood up for Greco, stating that he was targeted due to his perceived lack of alignment with the government.
Schlein and Meloni’s detractors believe that this recent conflict is just another example of Italy’s right-wing coalition trying to silence dissenting opinions. According to Schlein, Meloni has a tendency to crave control. Furthermore, the government holds onto a possessive view of institutions and culture that is unacceptable.
One of the most notable changes during Meloni’s 11-month tenure in Italy’s cultural realm has been the new leadership at the state-owned network, Rai.
A close associate of Meloni, who has previously spread dubious ideas about George Soros and Russian propaganda, has been chosen as the managing director of Rai. This decision comes alongside the resignation of the CEO and two prominent talk show hosts, leading the opposition to accuse it as a politically motivated “purge” of the nation’s most powerful broadcasting company.
A source within Rai, who wishes to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the topic, expressed disapproval towards the government, stating: “In the eyes of this government, Rai represents the left’s dictatorship. They believe that by controlling the media, they can alter the cultural narrative in Italy.”
This pattern is likely to cause concern among officials in Brussels and other capitals who expressed worries about the potential actions of a right-wing government in Rome before Meloni took power last year.
The European Commission passed the European Media Freedom Act in the previous year, which outlines regulations to ensure unbiased reporting by public media. In the current year, the Commission released a report calling for Rai to have greater autonomy from political agendas.
Free speech campaigners and journalists’ organizations have also raised the alarm. In June, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the European Federation of Journalists and others expressed their “growing alarm about threats to the editorial independence of the broadcaster” and called for reforms to protect Rai’s independence.
The Meloni administration’s restructuring of the media industry extends beyond just the public broadcasting network.
The government recently reduced the tenure of the board at the Experimental Cinematography Center, the oldest film school in Western Europe, and also gained the authority to select new leaders for the institution. This move has been met with criticism from the entertainment industry and political opposition. Additionally, a former far-right activist has been chosen as the president of Rome’s contemporary art museum, MAXXI.
Administrators who do not align with Meloni’s political beliefs may also face a grim outlook in the future.
The Culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, imposed new restrictions for the selection of directors for Italy’s leading museums, including the need for European citizenship and proficiency in Italian. He also implemented age limitations for opera house leadership, which could potentially result in the removal of two French leaders from two of Italy’s renowned opera institutions.
Rai’s news programs and talk shows are influential in shaping public opinion in Italy.
It has become customary for Italy’s political leaders to appoint their allies to high-level positions at the broadcaster. In 2015, the center-left prime minister Matteo Renzi altered the regulations to allow incoming governments to have significant influence over Rai’s board.
However, Meloni’s opponents argue that her administration has taken things too far by launching a smear campaign to incite suspicion.
The previous Chief Executive Officer of Rai, Carlo Fuortes, was chosen by former Prime Minister Mario Draghi. However, he resigned earlier this year, stating that he felt pressured to change the editorial direction and programming.
Fabio Fazio, the most well-known host in the country, has conducted interviews with both the pope and Barack Obama on his highly-rated Sunday night program. However, his support for migrants has caused tension with the government, leading him to leave the show. Shortly after, another prominent journalist, Lucia Annunziata, also left.
During an interview, Fazio stated that in a single season, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini had targeted him 123 times.
After their departure, Salvini expressed his contentment by tweeting “Belli Ciao,” in a sarcastic nod to the leftist anthem, Bella Ciao.
The insider from Rai mentioned a strategy of attacking someone’s character in order to remove broadcasters and executives who do not align with the far-right coalition. These are tactics commonly used in authoritarian governments.
The recent announcement of Giampaolo Rossi as the new managing director of Rai by the government has sparked controversy. Rossi’s past statements in support of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Viktor Orbán, as well as his belief that the U.S. is responsible for the destabilization of Ukraine, have caused a stir.
He stated in 2016 that Putin’s responsibility is his refusal to conform Russia to the demands of the New World Order promoted by George Soros, a worldwide investor known for causing disruption in democratically elected administrations.
Rossi made a comparison between Nigerians, Tunisians, Moroccans, and Bosnians, stating that they are all like rapists and murderers and should be imprisoned until they can be deported back to their home countries.
After being chosen, Rossi stated his desire to “restore balance to the portrayal of media” and reclaim areas that have been taken over by the political left.
Some politicians from the opposition are worried that the change in leadership may cause a negative impact on journalism and may also result in hiding Italy’s fascist history. Angelo Bonelli, a member of the Green Europe party, described it as an inappropriate effort to eliminate and control the media.
Sandro Ruotolo, a member of the Democratic party and opposition leader, expressed to POLITICO his concern about the acquisition, stating that it was risky and could jeopardize the diversity and democracy in the country. He also believes that Rai should serve the people, not the government.
However, supporters of Meloni argue that the equilibrium is merely being restored. Prior to the elections last year, she made a pledge to give a voice to those who have been silenced due to what she perceives as left-leaning media control, advocating for the “emancipation of Italian culture from the dominant left-wing culture.”
Marco Scurria, a member of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, stated that Rai is embarking on a new era that welcomes a diverse range of ideas and cultural influences from Italian society. Scurria believes that Rossi, who is both an intellectual and a cultural figure, will provide valuable content and leadership for Rai’s future.