Commentary. Nowadays, not one of our politicians is even remotely in a position to be genuinely shocked and outraged by the resurgence of our legendary “swamp creature.”

As Berlusconi returns to politics, so does conflict of interest

Maybe it’s because of the election coming up, or because of the dreaded return of the Right to power—whatever the reason, we are again talking about the issue of conflicts of interest. Great. The daily La Repubblica has just spent many words on this topic: three editorials, coming after years of silence. And Luigi Di Maio of the 5 Star Movement has spoken about it on TV.

The latter, moreover, has gone on to criticize the RAI (the Italian public broadcaster), attacking the newscasters who have gotten so hung up on conflicts of interest by the representatives of the 5 Star Movement (insignificant, according to Di Maio), while almost completely ignoring the (admittedly more serious) ones involving the Democratic Party in the Fanpage-De Luca scandal. Di Maio then promised that, if he ends up in power, he will finally guarantee the RAI’s autonomy from the political parties. That is a very ambitious goal, which has been talked about ever since the 1975 reform.

Conflict of interest is itself an old topic, now revived by the entrance of Silvio Berlusconi into the fray. He is certainly the most important living example of the phenomenon. But it was downplayed straight away and made to be a low-priority issue by our cowardly and defeatist Left.

Many people share the blame for this situation, and everyone bears some guilt: for instance, Prodi hasn’t paid any attention to this issue, and neither has D’Alema, nor Bertinotti in the least. Not even Walter Veltroni, the man who has been on TV more than anyone else on the Left, has breathed a single word about it, when on Sunday, together with Gentiloni, he expressed his clear aversion to making any deals with the former Knight. Of course, we will leave aside the inscrutable Renzi and his thousand-day government—but the simple fact remains that no one from the Left has even put this issue on the agenda.

This, at least, is clear: nowadays, not one of these politicians is even remotely in a position to be genuinely shocked and outraged by the resurgence of our legendary “swamp creature,” and to call on the voters to prevent such a disastrous turning back of the clock. On the other hand, in the five years since 2013, 5 Star Movement members have themselves refrained from putting up the barricades in order to bring this issue onto the national political agenda. Well, at least it’s better late than never.

We are, however, curious to find out how the 5 Star people would go about ensuring the independence of the RAI. Three years ago, in the Senate, Fico put forward a proposal which provided, among other things, for the abolition of the Supervisory Board and the appointment of the RAI leadership by drawing lots from a list of people who fit certain requirements.

But we would like to float another proposal here, for the attention of Di Maio and Fico: to create, for instance, a Council for Communications consisting of 21 members, seven of whom would be named by the Presidents of the two Chambers, 11 by the trade unions, entrepreneurs, artists, customer’s associations, universities and consumers, and three by the regions, the ANCI (National Association of Municipalities) and the association of the provinces. The Council would appoint the highest positions in the RAI leadership (by selecting them through public competitions), as well as the members of the Telecommunications Authority, using the same criteria. The latter would ensure that even private TV stations would comply with the regulatory notices that the Council would issue for the whole of the television sector. And, finally, there would be a ceiling of 45 percent on the share of advertising revenue for any particular market actor.

Would this be a better proposal than the drawing of lots? Even that one would be good, as long as something is actually done. But we would like to point out that our proposal has already secured the allegiance of a powerful supporter: none other than Prime Minister Gentiloni, who actually signed it and pushed it through the House of Deputies when he was a minister in the second Prodi government, only to mysteriously forget about it and pretend it never happened during the Renzi years.


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