Commentary. It matters little whether the orders are coming from above or whether they are individual decisions by executives trying to be more Catholic than the Pope, because the result is the same. Certain positions are not welcome on RAI public television.

Censorship is a weapon in Meloni’s culture war

If there is one thing that the Meloni government is actually taking seriously, it’s culture: every other day since taking office, the first government led by a party heir to the MSI has begun to attack what it – rightly or wrongly – deems to be a culture hostile to its worldview, with artfully constructed controversies on social media or in friendly newspapers and underhanded maneuvers involving the most popular household appliance: the TV.

The latest case, which reeks strongly of censorship, is about the writer Antonio Scurati and his speech on the topic of April 25, scheduled for Saturday night on Serena Bortone’s program Che sarà… on Raitre. The host herself broke the news with a post on her social media: “I learned last night [Friday], with dismay and by pure chance, that Scurati’s contract had been canceled. I was unable to get a plausible explanation for that. But I owe it, first of all to Scurati – with whom, of course, I just spoke on the phone – and to you, the viewers, to give an explanation for why you won’t see the writer on my program tonight. The problem is that I wasn’t able to get such an explanation myself.”

Scurati’s speech, already spread far and wide since Saturday afternoon (which can also be found on il manifesto’s website), is a harsh attack on Meloni. Starting with the assassination of Matteotti, the author of the successful trilogy of books on Mussolini published by Bompiani says that “the prime minister has stubbornly stuck to the ideological line of her neo-fascist culture of origin,” because “she has distanced herself from the indefensible heinous crimes perpetrated by the regime (the persecution of the Jews) without ever repudiating the Fascist episode as a whole. She shifted the responsibility for the massacres carried out with the complicity of the republican Fascists onto the Nazis alone, and finally she disavowed the fundamental role of the Resistance in Italy’s rebirth (to the point of never even mentioning the word ‘anti-Fascism’ on the occasion of April 25, 2023).”

The controversy went on for the whole day, with an unexpected ending: on Saturday evening, Bortone started her show by reading the text herself. But first, she had some statements to make about the whole affair: “I’ve read scenarios that were fanciful and offensive. Some newspapers wrote that there was some issue related to money. I would like to specify that Scurati’s reaction was to give me the text free of charge and give me permission to read it.”

This is not the first time that something like this has happened on Che sarà…. In March, another guest who found herself unexpectedly cut was writer Nadia Terranova, whose speech dealt with a hot topic during those weeks: the police charge against the students in Pisa, about which President Sergio Mattarella himself had expressed his disapproval. After the show contacted her, Terranova wrote and sent in her text – but it didn’t seem to be well received.

She was asked to change the topic, but when she refused, she was cut from the show. Then she published the text in her newsletter, with the title Un posto piccolo (“A Small Place”), which has also been published in il manifesto. The rejection from Che sarà… is one more piece of evidence for the very heavy climate in public television.

It matters little whether the orders are coming from above or whether they are individual decisions by executives trying to be more Catholic than the Pope, because the result is the same. Certain arguments, certain words, and certain positions are not welcome on RAI public television. On Saturday afternoon, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, probably aware of the scandal around what happened to Scurati, tried to shut the matter down by posting the censored text on her Facebook profile. “Italy is full of problems, but once again, the left is blowing something out of proportion,” she wrote, stressing that she has never wanted to censor anyone.

However, it was too little, too late: the opposition parties, all united and speaking with one voice for once, came out in force, issuing harsh comments on the incident in tones that recalled the dark years of Berlusconi’s edicts. On the other side of the barricade, even before the premier’s intervention, the vast array of journalists and influencers aligned with the government had already launched their own alternative scenario, which claimed that Scurati didn’t go on Bortone’s show for financial reasons. The truth is very different: as per company emails that were circulated on Saturday, the cancellation was for “editorial reasons,” and had nothing to do with the agreed-upon fee of 1,500 Euros pre-tax.

It is true that there was a negotiation between the writer and the show, as usually happens in such cases: he asked for 1,800 euros, then the deal was struck for 300 euros less. At this point, the right-wing riff-raff tried to harp on the issue of the sum being outrageously high – but anyone who has even a vague idea of the cost of television broadcasts and of securing guests with a certain prominence (not many of whom are well-known and established writers) knows that these are not high figures at all.

On the issue of possible censorship, the joint editorial boards of the investigative journalism division of RAI also took a stand against what happened at Che sarà… as well as the other recent absurdities: the cancellation of reruns for Sigfrido Ranucci’s Report, which ran investigations into prominent figures in the government coalition, and the panel on abortion on Porta a porta which featured seven men and no women: “We wonder who is behind this drift: politics? The government? The board of directors? And, in particular, what is the point of this impulse to shoot oneself in the foot, which is undermining our authority before the public? Does anyone really believe that all this would influence votes for the next election? Does anyone really think that RAI should be a tool for election campaigns or petty political posturing?”

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