Italy’s Five Star Movement accused of plagiarizing Wikipedia and rivals’ political speeches in election programme

Italy's Five Star Movement (M5S), the country's most popular party according to polls, has been accused of plagiarizing a variety of sources in its programme for the March general election.

Italy's Five Star Movement accused of plagiarizing Wikipedia and rivals' political speeches in election programme
M5S leader Luigi Di Maio delivers a speech during the presentation of the movement's parliamentary candidates. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Online newspaper Il Post reported on Wednesday that 11 of the programme’s 20 chapters included material apparently plagiarized from other sources. A full comparison of the M5S manifesto and the unattributed sources can be found on the website in Italian.

These sources included articles, parliamentary papers, scientific studies, legal manuals, and even statements made by rival politicians.

According to Il Post, the M5S manifesto included material plagiarized from the Wikipedia pages for eco-museums, the ministry for communications, and a government agency responsible for managing EU farming funds, while in other places definitions were identical to those found in legal manuals.

Other sections were identical to papers from the European Commission and the Italian parliament, reports from private and public think tanks, and a National Geographic report. In one chapter, two full pages were identical, though not attributed to, a section from a report by environmental organization Legambiente.

Even more surprisingly, the manifesto also included material seemingly copied from a parliamentary question from Democratic Party (PD) senator Giorgio Roilo, and from the Repubblica daily newspaper, a left-leaning title with close ties to the PD.

Researchers for Il Post also analyzed the programmes of Italy’s other political parties, the site confirmed, without finding evidence of plagiarism. Meanwhile, some sections of the M5S programme, including those on immigration, justice, and foreign policy, were listed as 'partial' with less than a month to go until the March 4th election, though a party spokesperson told the newspaper that final versions would appear online “soon”.

At the core of the party philosophy is direct democracy, and a party spokesperson dismissed the findings, saying the manifesto had been put together following online consultations with activists and members of its online platform. The spokesperson, Manlio Di Stefano, also said there was no specific author for each chapter.

A separate statement from the party said that the sections of the programme accused of plagiarism by Il Post were merely analytical sections, separate from the manifesto.

“Of course we have taken data from dossiers and scientific studies; also from experts with whom we have always collaborated in the past five years,” the note continued.

Recent opinion polls show the M5S the most popular single party, with 30 percent of the vote, around five percent ahead of the governing PD. However, a centre-right coalition led by four-time PM Silvio Berlusconi is in the lead, approaching 40 percent, and a large chunk of the population has not yet decided who to vote for.

The M5S was created as an 'anti-establishment' party and has taken pride in presenting itself as an alternative to Italy's other main parties. Candidates who have previously held public office are banned from the party's lists.

Rival politicians were quick to criticize the M5S, with PD member Matteo Orfini writing: “Choose original ideas, choose the PD” on his Facebook page. Party secretary Matteo Renzi said: “[M5S deputy Alessandro] Di Battista insults us all saying 'Italians have turned stupid [referring to a recent comment by Di Battista]. Only he is intelligent, the others don't understand. That will be why the Five Stars copied their programme from Wikipedia.” 

READ MORE: What you need to know about Italy's 2018 general election




Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.