Commentary. The Trump administration has earned a reputation for obstructing reporters, but Beppe Grillo has been doing that for years.

Why the 5 Star Movement disdains the press

If you are a journalist looking for an interview with a 5 Star Movement politician, sooner or later you will have to send a message to the aspiring 5 Star government minister. And before saying another word, he will respond with one name: “Casalino.”

It means that in order to interview the person in question, you need to request Rocco Casalino’s authorization. From the engine room, the latter rations permissions, manages the expression of opinions, produces an internal hierarchy of Grillini (thus determining who should become known) and also a list of acceptable reporters. Luigi Di Maio went even further. He published on his Facebook profile a letter sent to the president of the Council of Journalists with a list of journalists considered enemies of M5S. The list is apparently a banishment.

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and listen.” These are words of the white supremacist (and puppeteer of fake news for electoral purposes) Steve Bannon, who attacked the information systems before the election of Donald Trump. The same concepts have been repeated for years in Italy by Beppe Grillo and his institutional spokesmen.

From his blog, Grillo launched daily anathemas against the “journalist of the day,” including photos and sketches for the use and consumption of online hate bursts. For the common Grillini, the role of information workers is now useless, residual, purely parasitic. This is not purely an authoritarian drive, but a more complex phenomenon. The 5 Star narrative inherited a (sacred) indignation of certain subservient press but especially at the naive utopia of the ‘90s (25 years ago) that a society would be ready to self-narrate on screens thanks to the social network.

In short, the legendary disintermediation would also work in this area. Too bad that 10, 100, 1,000 news sites do not blossom, and that in this case everything flourishes in the enclosure of a single blog, whose keys to access are jealously guarded by the M5S leaders.

The fact that Reporters Without Borders shuns Grillo, referring to him as a constraint on press freedom, makes another fact clear to those who truly delve into the numbers and not just stop at the headlines: The countries at the top of the ranking are exactly those that allocate more public funds to journalism and information, an item of expenditure that needs to be managed better and increased. Instead, the Grillini see it as a smokescreen.

Yet even at Casaleggio and Partners they know that the raw material on which they thrive is not generated spontaneously. A few years ago, the Pew Center monitored for a week the information ecosystem of a medium to large American city like Baltimore, keeping an eye on the activities on Twitter profiles, blogs, local newspapers, television and radio. The research showed with millimetric accuracy that the vast majority of the stories circulating in the infosphere are produced with great effort by information professionals, although more and more in temporary labor conditions. The other actors limit their contributions to commenting on the news, by labelling them sarcastically and putting them back into circulation, perhaps translating them into simplistic memes (“Shame !!!”), launched to the audience on flashy (and free) social outposts.

Those facts hold firm, in spite of years of insecurity in the sector, a period in which, just to name one, the balance of power between journalists and public relations officers rolled over to an impressive extent. Until the ‘80s, each journalist had at his heels at least one PR employee. Now a poor reporter is tailed on average by six press agents. It’s as if for each editor (who on top of everything, works part time) there were six Rocco Casalinos.

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