Italy launches investigation into Russian disinformation claims

An official investigation has begun amid widespread concern about Kremlin-linked Russian commentators appearing on Italian news channels.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was interviewed on an Italian talk show.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was interviewed on an Italian talk show. Photo by Maxim SHIPENKOV / POOL / AFP.

Italy’s parliamentary committee for security, Copasir, opened the probe this week in response to widespread concerns that Italian news outlets are being used to spread Russian propaganda, according to media reports.

The inquiry comes after Italian news channels repeatedly invited Russian journalists and pro-Kremlin Italian commentators to speak on their programmes in recent months.

READ ALSO: Pro-Russia hackers target Italian official websites

The recent appearance of Russia’s foreign minister Sergej Lavrov on the political talk show Zona Bianca sparked a particular outcry in Italy, reports newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Lavrov used the platform to repeat claims that Ukraine’s President Zelensky was a Nazi, despite his being Jewish – also falsely claiming that even Hitler was part Jewish.

He also denied that Russian forces were behind the atrocities committed against Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Italy’s president Mario Draghi called the comments “bizarre and obscene”, reported Corriere della Sera.

Part of the committee’s mission is to determine whether it is legitimate to invite organs of the Russian state to appear on Italian current affairs shows.

The repeat appearance on Italian talk shows of Nadana Fridrikhson, a journalist from the Russian state-owned TV network Zvezda which is run by Russia’s Ministry of Defence, has also caused consternation among audiences in Italy.

“Russian disinformation works through espionage, hiring by Russian companies, campaigns and fake news,” Copasir’s president Adolfo Urso reportedly said as he announced the investigation.

“We must therefore ensure that the information is free from this systematic work of foreign interference.”

READ ALSO: Italy expels 30 Russian diplomats over security concerns

Urso pointed to a report by a European task force which had identified more than 13,000 instances of Russian disinformation in the EU since 2014 as evidence of the scale of the problem.

The committee has called on the president of the media watchdog Agcom, the director of Italy’s security agency Aisi, and the CEO of the national broadcaster Rai to provide evidence in a series of hearings.

Following testimony delivered by Rai CEO Carlo Fuortes on Thursday, Urso said that the session “proved fruitful, providing useful insights in order to protect freedom, editorial and informational autonomy and pluralism against any form of conditioning and to increase the resilience of the entire country-wide system,” according to news agency Ansa.

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IN PICTURES: Thousands in Italy march for peace in Ukraine

Tens of thousands of Italians marched through Rome on Saturday calling for peace in Ukraine and urging Italy to stop sending of weapons to fight the Russian invasion.

IN PICTURES: Thousands in Italy march for peace in Ukraine

“No to war. No to sending weapons”, read one large banner carried by protesters, as a vast crowd broke into cries of “give peace a chance”.

People marching on November 5, 2022 in Rome holding a banner reading “Total disarmament and peace now”. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Nato founding member Italy has supported Ukraine from the start of the war, including providing it with arms.

A man takes part in the national peace demonstration by Italian civil society organisations working together in the Europe for Peace coalition, holding a placard reading “no more war, weapons and propaganda”. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

New far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has said that will not change and the government has said it is expecting to send more weapons soon.

But some, including former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, have said Italy should be stepping up negotiations instead.

Leader of Italian populist Five Star movement M5S (Movimento Cinque Stelle), Giuseppe Conte (C) marches on November 5, 2022 in Rome. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

The peace rally was attended by some 30,000 people, Rome police told Italian media.

“The weapons were sent at the beginning on the grounds that this would prevent an escalation,” demonstrator Roberto Zanotto told AFP.

People hold banners and placards at the march on November 5, 2022 in Rome. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

“Nine months later and it seems to me that there’s been an escalation. Look at the facts: sending weapons does not help stop a war, weapons help fuel a war.”

Student Sara Gianpietro said the conflict was being dragged out by arming Ukraine, which “has economic consequences for our country, but for the respect of human rights too”.

The Group of Seven foreign ministers, including Italy, on Friday vowed to continue supporting Ukraine in the fight against Russia.

READ ALSO: Q&A: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?