It’s scarcely mentioned outside of Italy that there are actually some fine journalists working for Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset. Under the directorship of Enrico Mentana, the news broadcasts of Canale Cinque, have by and large maintained an impartial and professional stance when reporting the news (in comparison with one of Berlusconi’s other channels Retequattro, and its laughable ‘news’ broadcasts, panegyrics to the selfless leadership of Berlusconi*).
On thursday night, during the closing remarks on the main evening news, Mentana announced with much regret that the board that controls Mediaset (of which PierSilvio Berlusconi, Silvio’s son, is a prominent member) had decided to replace him with the current director of weekly current affairs magazine Panorama, Carlo Rossella.
What exactly this means, for Canale Cinque and the independence in general of the Italian media is too early to say. When asked whether he believed there were political reasons behind his effective dismissal, Mentana responded “Let’s not be hypocrites, of course there were”. From a ratings point of view, Mentana’s news team consistently topped the polls for Mediaset. In the same interview, La Repubblica suggested that there may be an eye on the impending regional and national elections. Recently Forza Italia deputy Paolo Guzzanti called Mediaset to arms, politically speaking, when he suggested that with current media coverage the ruling coalition would lose any Election.
It would be unfair to judge Mentana’s successor Carlo Rossella as a stooge to Berlusconi and Forza Italia‘s interests, at least until we’ve had a chance to see what tangible difference he makes. However, there’s an interesting aside in La Repubblica, that may give some idea as to the attitude Canale Cinque‘s news may take towards the Government under Rossella’s stewardship.
Rossella is a journalist/editor of some experience, having directed La Stampa, and latterly Panorama, both owned by Berlusconi. A year and a half ago, while Berlusconi confronted the magistrates during one of his trials (more of which in the next posting), a famous photo appeared in all the newspapers – one of Berlusconi, taken from behind, with an accusing finger pointing at the judges. The photo was a potent symbol of the ongoing clash between Berlusconi, the Government, and the Judiciary, and as such was printed in most newspapers and magazines. The curious point is that in Rossella’s Panorama, the photo had a noticeable difference, somehow Berlusconi had lost his bald patch and appeared with a luxuriant head of hair.
Journalists in Canale Cinque have demanded the reasoning behind Mentana’s dismissal, and have not ruled out strike action in support of their colleague.
Canale Cinque is a privately owned broadcaster, and as such is perfectly entitled to replace whoever with whomever they choose. In the normal course of events I would simply change channels. Ah, but change channels to where? RAI, the state broadcaster is controlled by the Government, and the Government is controlled by…
* an example of Rete Quattro‘s news coverage was given recently when the Centre Left won a string of important by-election results, including in Milano, Berlusconi’s home patch. Rete Quattro, perhaps finding that there was no possible way of creating a positive spin, simply omitted the by-election results from their news.
 Interview, La Repubblica Friday 12/11