Article by Federico Guerrieri. Translation by Chris Mckee
Today we find ourselves dealing with the umpteenth blow struck against the freedom of the press in Europe: the Italian television channel ‘Current’ is set to be cancelled by Sky Italia.
The official motivation given by Rupert Murdoch’s group has been attributed to an alleged drop in viewing figures. Sky, in its official press release, emphasised that “the performance (of Current) is unfortunately no longer on the rise”, citing that the average viewing figures had fallen by 20% in relation to the previous year. However this is where their argument does not seem to hold up: from the moment of its creation around three years ago, Current Italia has been able to consistently produce programs of the highest quality. This has been evidenced not only from the widespread recognition that the channel has received, but also in the plethora of national and international awards that it has been given, which include the Rosellini Prize, the Freedom of Information Award given by the National Union of Reporters, and the 2010 Hot Bird TV Award as the best news channel in Europe.
The real motivation that has pushed Sky to not renew its contract with Current Italia is that Current is seen as a “problem channel” due to its constant search for the truth, and its status as one of the few and isolated voices that have resisted the gag on information imposed by the Piduista or Mason-like government of Silvio Berlusconi. Current has never shirked from criticising the powers that be, from Rupert Murdoch himself to the Catholic Church.
Al Gore, the founder of the television program, has accused Murdoch’s News Corp, in no uncertain terms, of having forced Sky Italia to cancel Current after having “hired a left-wing journalist (Keith Olbermann) who has often been very critical of Murdoch.” Gore has also made another interesting claim that is worth considering: “Sky Italia is currently negotiating with the government to enter into the terrestrial digital market and needs the all-clear from Berlusconi for it to go-ahead.”
This here is yet another clear example of what happens in a strongly oligopolic market: rather than competing, the main companies find a means of agreement to further their own interests and personal gains. And the ones punished for this are the citizens themselves, who see their right to be informed eroded more and more every day.
In 2009, European Alternatives presented the European Parliament a dossier on the state of the media in Italy. Its findings outlined the problem of freedom and the pluralism of information in Italy, described as a virus with the potential to infect a number of other countries in Europe. The European Parliament at the time, composed of a large majority of conservative elements, voted against a resolution to sanction Italy by a majority of only three votes.
Today, only two years down the line, we are now witnessing a process of “Berlusconisation” in Europe that is as alarming as ever, bringing with it a number of serious affronts to freedom and pluralism of information. And how: Hungary for example has now voted in laws so draconian that the OSCE has not hesitated to condemn as “totalitarian”. Bulgaria must also not be let off the hook for its attempts to be recognised as the country where press freedom is the most restricted in Europe, while France, thanks to the recent internet restrictions imposed by Sarkozy’s government, has for the first time been placed on the Reporters without Border’s list of countries under surveillance for being classed as an “enemy of the internet.” Rupert Murdoch himself is attempting to acquire BskyB: should he succeed, he would find himself in a dominant position within the British media market.
Other events on the European political landscape fully echo the sentiments explored in this piece . The Spanish Revolution, for example, was deliberately ignored by the local media and one cannot forget that one of the main demands of the Spanish protest movement was precisely the need for greater media freedom.
It is absolutely necessary that the issue of the freedom and pluralism of information is considered on a European level. It is this requirement that has pushed European Alternatives to launch a campaign entitled “European Initiative for Media Pluralism”.
The absence of any freedom of information is a real and genuine attack on the fundamental rights of the people. Current Italia is one of the few media outlets that has the courage to investigate, to tell, and above all, TO INFORM, making it somewhat unique in Italian and in European television.
For this reason European Alternatives supports the campaign to save Current Italia, and hopes that the channel remains very much visible on SKY.
We also encourage Al Gore to bring Current TV onto terrestrial television, so that it can be visible to those who cannot afford to pay for cable television, as we believe that the freedom of information is a right for everyone.
Current TV has also stressed that you too can help its cause, by writing directly to the following address to ask that Current TV is not taken off the airwaves: tom.mockridge@skyTV.it, Chief Executive of Sky Italia.