Controversial journalist to head Italy’s state broadcaster despite political dispute

The conspiracy theorist journalist nominated to head Italian state broadcaster RAI said on Thursday he will take the post for now, despite a parliamentary commission rejecting him.

Controversial journalist to head Italy's state broadcaster despite political dispute
Silvio Berlusconi (L) and Matteo Salvini have disagreed over the appointment. Photo: AFP

Marcello Foa has faced opposition from the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and in particular from media mogul and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (FI), whose votes were decisive in shooting down his bid for the post.

Despite having his candidacy blocked, Foa, an Italian-Swiss citizen aged 55, can serve as its de facto head as the eldest member on RAI's advisory board.

“I am waiting on indications from the owner (Italy's ministry of economy and finance) and in the meantime I shall continue in full respect of the law to coordinate the workings of the board as the eldest member in the exclusive interest of the RAI's good functioning,” said Foa in a statement.

“I want to stress that in these first meetings the atmosphere at the heart of the board has been excellent,” added Foa.

The coalition government comprising the far-right League and the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), which took office just two months ago, had agreed on Foa, a staunch defender of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as their man after much discussion.

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The League had welcomed his nomination as the “end of group thinking” in the media. But Berlusconi objected to not being consulted on the issue by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini of the League, saying it was a “bad sign” that a decision for such a key position was “agreed only within the government”.

The League responded by expressing displeasure at “the PD-FI axis that is trying to stop change”.

For Salvini, “Marcello Foa is someone who is well thought of, in Italy and worldwide, a free person” who he insisted would require journalists “to be objective and correct,” and in no party's pocket.

Foa, who for over two decades worked for the right-wing “Il Giornale” newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family, has publicly supported anti-vaccine theories, retweeted neo-fascists on Twitter and claimed that NGOs are operating an “immigration factory”.

In December 2016 he leant credence to a supposed, but non-existent, attempted coup d'etat against US president Donald Trump. M5S leader Luigi Di Maio said he believed the RAI head should “be elected” in the belief that supporters of a party, who essentially oppose the established political class, do not wish to see the head of the broadcasting system chosen on the basis of his age.

Di Maio said he hoped the parties would be able to agree on Foa, while suggesting an “alternative” might yet emerge.

By Fanny Carrier


Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.