Italian State Broadcaster Rai Accuses Rightwing Government of Manipulation and Attempting to Erase Antifascist Legacy, Prompting High-Profile Resignations
According to sources within the Italian state broadcaster, Rai, accusations have been made against Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government, claiming that they seek to manipulate the organization to their advantage and eradicate Italy’s anti-fascist legacy. These allegations come in the wake of several high-profile departures.
In recent weeks, Carlo Fuortes stepped down as chief executive, citing governmental pressure as the reason for his resignation. Additionally, Fabio Fazio, a talk show host known for his left-leaning views, and his co-presenter, Luciana Littizzetto, a comedian famous for her satirical jabs at conservatives, left after their contracts for the popular program Che Tempo Che Fa were not renewed. It is anticipated that more departures will follow in the upcoming months.
A broadcaster insider remarked, “Whenever there’s a change in government, there’s also a change in Rai’s leadership. The only distinction now is that it has become more ruthless, whereas in the past, it was perhaps handled with more decorum.”
Fuortes, who resigned a year before his term was due to end, was quickly replaced by Roberto Sergio, a Rai manager appointed by the government. A source claimed that Sergio’s political stance “changes with the wind” depending on who holds power.
The position of director general has been assigned to Giampaolo Rossi, a former Rai board member supported by Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which has its roots in neo-fascism. Rossi is notable for his controversial tweets and his admiration for Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and Viktor Orbán. In a 2019 interview with Primato Nazionale, a newspaper associated with the far-right group CasaPound, Rossi declared that “anti-fascism is a distorted representation of the past.”
According to a source familiar with the matter, there has been a significant escalation in the government’s influence on Rai. They aim to exert control over the organization, shape the narrative to align with their ideology and erase Italy’s anti-fascist history. This strategy is perceived as a deliberate attempt to weaken Rai and undermine its role as a public service broadcaster.
The pressure on Carlo Fuortes began shortly before the general election last September. Following criticism of Italy’s right-wing parties by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy on a Rai 3 talk show, Fuortes became the target of attacks from the far-right League party and Brothers of Italy. The League called for his dismissal, while Brothers of Italy lodged a complaint with Italy’s communications watchdog. These parties ultimately won the election, forming a coalition government with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which took power in October.
In his resignation letter to the economy ministry, Fuortes, who had been appointed by the previous prime minister Mario Draghi’s government, stated his refusal to accept changes to Rai’s editorial line and programming. He further expressed his concerns about the political conflict surrounding his position since the beginning of 2023, highlighting the detrimental impact on Rai and the public service.
Giorgia Meloni’s government has faced criticism for allegedly pressuring Fuortes to leave before the completion of his mandate. A former member of Rai’s parliamentary supervisory committee described the treatment of Fuortes as shameful. Moreover, the appointment of Giampaolo Rossi as director general appeared to be predetermined, with expectations that he would become the CEO within a year, given his reputation as a strong and assertive figure.
Signs of the potential influence that Meloni’s leadership might seek to exert over Rai’s programming became apparent prior to the elections. Federico Mollicone, an official from the Brothers of Italy party, urged the broadcaster not to air an episode of the popular children’s cartoon series Peppa Pig due to the inclusion of a same-sex couple among its characters.
“There will likely be attempts to place their own people in network director positions,” explained the former supervisory committee member. “This could result in increased influence over programming in the future. They may try to minimize left-wing narratives and exert greater influence over popular programs.”
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and leader of the League party, faced accusations of being “authoritarian” from the opposition when he celebrated the departure of Fazio and Littizzetto with a sarcastic tweet that referenced the Italian anti-fascist song “Bella Ciao.”
Fazio, who had been with Rai for 40 years and conducted interviews with prominent figures such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Barack Obama, and Emmanuel Macron, stated that the government felt empowered by their election victory and behaved as if they were the owners of the public sphere, showing little regard for the public and displaying excessive greed. Salvini claimed that Fazio’s departure from Rai and his decision to sign a new contract with Discovery were choices made by Fazio himself.
“Fazio was an asset to Rai, and losing him was a mistake,” remarked Gianni Riotta, the director of the school of Journalism at Rome’s Luiss University. “While political influence has always existed, there is a line that the government should never cross: Rai should not become homogeneous. We need a public service that represents a range of opinions.”