Anyone in Italy today who criticises the Government or the Prime Minister knows what to expect in return - not a contrary opinion, but a campaign aimed at discrediting him. He knows that the price for continuing to ask questions and expressing opinions will be paid with his own skin. Anyone who takes a critical stand knows to expect retaliation. For this reason in Italy today press freedom means the freedom not to have your life destroyed; the freedom not to have your career cut short. Italy appears more and more to be a country in which politics has been reduced to personal attacks.
Both Saviano and Delius describe how Berlusconi's cronies sued La Repubblica for asking entirely legitimate questions, and accused the editor of L'Avvenire, a newspaper close to the Vatican, of being a closet homosexual when he criticised old goat. Although Delius in her most telling line notes that no one will speak to her on the record, Saviano modestly insists that he is not a hero, and "obviously, Italy cannot be compared with China, Cuba, Burma or Iran."
No it can't. But it can be compared to the growing number of states around the world which are ordered to suit the boss. Berlusconi's Italy imitates Putin's Russia and Chavez's Venezuela. All the big chiefs seek to rig the debate. Berlusconi and Putin already control their country's television services. Chavez is going the same way and putting critical broadcasters out of business. These are not totalitarian countries as Saviano says. Criticism is allowed, if and only if, it is confined to the margins and does not reach a mass audience. Nor can the conventional divisions of left and right capture their politics. Dumb Tories who once supported Berlusconi, were disillusioned when he did not dismantle the bloated corporate state, and did not ask themselves why they expected him to divest himself of the instruments of patronage and corruption. Equally dumb leftists, who once supported Chavez, were disillusioned when he attacked independent trade unionists and allowed his favoured supporters to grow rich from the stolen profits of nationalized industries. What did they expect him to do?
Like Putin and Berlusconi he is a boss whose political ancestors cannot be found on left or right but in the corrupt manipulative populism of Napoleon III. Richard Nixon and Juan Peron.
I will end by saying that for all his modesty Saviano is a brave man for speaking out, and by pointing you to the international petition to defend La Repubblica here.
Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of the ebook Living With Lies (Standpoint) and You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (Fourth Estate). Living With Lies, a collection of his writing for Standpoint is available as an ebook.
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