Commentary. Italian Parliament will likely take up an amendment to the budget law that would cut 90 percent of government grants to nonprofit and cooperative newspapers, radio stations and television networks.

5 Star is about to drop an ‘atomic bomb’ on the press

A nuclear bomb is about to devastate the world of Italian nonprofit and cooperative newspapers, as well as local radio and TV stations.

There’s no better way to describe the proposed amendment to the budget law presented by M5S Deputy Adriano Varrica, a Di Maio loyalist from Sicily and member of the Environment Committee.

The “Varica Amendment” wants to cut 90 percent of the government grants to the press and local radio and TV stations (from what is known as the “pluralism fund”) immediately, starting from Jan. 1, adding an absolute ceiling of €500,000 and eliminating all such state grants entirely starting from 2020.

There is nothing gradual about this sudden cut in funding, which would lead to the immediate closure of hundreds of media outlets.

The theme of “pluralism” is a very touchy one nowadays.

The President of the Republic himself has had to intervene on six separate occasions in recent weeks to defend the freedom of information, particularly that of minorities, both linguistic and also cultural.

Elisabetta Casellati, the president of the Senate—the second-highest ranking office of the Italian Republic—also put out a statement on Tuesday supporting the president’s pro-pluralism position.

Together with the two highest officials of the Italian state, the FNSI and the Order of Journalists have also raised the alarm about the proposed amendment. For days now, both the Democratic Party and Forza Italia have been shouting from the rooftops denouncing the deadly trap that the M5S is setting for the media. “This amendment would lead to a thousand people going unemployed and to the closure of hundreds of free voices in the small local press,” explained Senator Rampi from the Democratic Party.

While the opposition is up in arms, the Lega has been cautious.

Lega Deputy Alessandro Morelli was more open, as he warned: “About the numbers, I think we should show some seriousness when putting forward reckless proposals, because there are people on the line, editorial offices and companies that deserve respect. To shoot off some numbers randomly threatens to put what is a powerful accomplishment by the government in a terrible light.”

The Lega seems to be opposed to cuts against local media and outlets serving linguistic minorities (the Slovenian one in particular), but they are unlikely to mount the barricades to support pluralism in general, and national newspapers in particular.

Not surprisingly, Varrica’s “nuclear option” has been lumped together with the other 750 amendments to the budget law that are considered “received,” i.e. those amendments that will actually be discussed next week out of the thousands that were proposed. It is a sign that the problem of the press will indeed be addressed, and is likely to be “taken care of” once and for all with an amendment passed by the majority or introduced by the government.

The trap that the 5 Star Movement has been setting up is now ready to be sprung. As Sole 24 Ore first reported on Nov. 3, the final form of the amendment could lead to the paradox of keeping the “pluralism fund” but spreading it out to thousands of recipients of every possible type—not only recognized media, but also whatever would qualify as ”projects aimed at spreading the culture of free information.”

Thus, it would become a good old-fashioned pork barrel—and one which would give the current government even more freedom to pursue its divide-and-conquer strategy against the journalistic world.

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