Italian journalists organised protests across the country yesterday against insults from prominent figures in the governing 5-Star Movement (MS5).
The protests were called by the country’s two main press unions, FNSI and Usigrai, after Italian Deputy Prime Minister and MS5 leader Luigi Di Maio and MS5 MP Alessandro Di Battista called journalists “jackals” and “prostitutes” over the weekend.
They were reacting to coverage of a long corruption inquiry against Rome’s mayor – MS5’s Virginia Raggi – that ended with an acquittal.
The two main unions organised flash mobs in several cities including Milan, Rome, Bologna, Genoa and Venice. The European Federation of Journalists also organised protests in Brussels and London.
The aim of the campaign ‘Giù le Mani dall’Informazione’ (hands off the news) is to “defend freedom of the press and to counter the drift of language in politics with insults and threats made towards those who carry out their duty to inform citizens,” the FNSI said in a statement.
M5S is following in footsteps of an increasing number of political leaders in Europe who regularly insult the press and accuse the media of generating ‘fake news’ as US President Donald Trump’s political discourse has permitted increased tolerance to these attacks against journalists.
The Italian journalists’ unions said the attacks were a threat to democracy, raising the alarm over “a political philosophy that is emerging around the globe,” scapegoating journalists. It is common for journalists who criticise the Party to be met with a deluge of online abuse, a trend also faced by journalists beyond Italy’s borders.
During a recent visit to Malta, award-winning author Naomi Klein said the Maltese government’s disdain for the press reminded her of Trump.
Meanwhile M5S, which is ruling in Italy coalition with the far-right League, has also renewed threats to cut funding for publishers. Gianni Riotta, the director of the school of journalism at Rome’s Luiss University, told The Guardian that the threat to cut public funding for newspapers was based on “complete falsehood” as subsidies for major dailies were scrapped several years ago, with only a handful of local newspapers benefiting from State support.
M5S, which built most of its support online, has been accused of spreading misinformation via unofficial social media accounts. The Party was blamed for a surge in measles cases after it campaigned on an anti-vaccination platform. A recent US study has linked the disinformation campaign on the safety of vaccines to Russian trolls.