Rome (Italy) (AFP)
Accusations of censorship and homophobia by a popular tattooed rapper put Italian state broadcaster Rai on the defensive as they hit the headlines on Monday.
The scandal – in which Rai’s executives appeared to be trying to dissuade rapper Fedez from criticizing the far right at a May 1 concert – reignited questions about neutrality and political pressure in Rai.
Politicians and media groups have stepped up their calls for reform of the broadcaster’s top management, which is appointed by government ministers.
“For years, we have been denouncing a ‘system’ in Rai: it is the party-ocracy which, with alternating parties, occupies the public office,” said the Rai journalists’ union of the USIG.
“May Rai be free, may ideas, information and art be free. “
– ‘Adapt to a system’ –
Fedez, who has more than 12 million Instagram followers and is married to star blogger Chiara Ferragni, took advantage of her appearance at a televised concert on May 1 to denounce the Italian far-right League and its blocking of ‘an anti-discrimination bill in parliament.
Before reciting a litany of anti-gay public comments by members of the League – including one who said that “If I had a gay son, I would burn him in the oven” – Fedez told fans that Rai had tried to silence him before the concert.
When Rai denied it, Fedez released a recording of a phone conversation in which the concert’s producer said Fedez had to “adjust to a system” that prevented him from naming names.
In the same call, the Rai3 channel’s deputy manager said she considered the context “inappropriate” for the rapper’s planned comments.
Rai later said the video was edited to remove statements by the broadcaster’s executive that Rai was not censoring him.
However, it has since received around 2.2 million views and has prompted some leftist politicians, including former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, to support Fedez.
– Competence and independence –
The story made headlines in Italy on Monday, with La Repubblica splashing “Cyclone Fedez on Rai” on the front page.
The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Roberto Fico, called on Rai to put “competence and independence at the forefront”.
The independence of the public broadcaster is a long-standing controversy in Italy.
The media landscape has been turned upside down by former prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, whose conglomerate Mediaset has helped consolidate his grip on power.
A 2015 reform under former prime minister Matteo Renzi, which was supposed to liberate Rai from political influence, simply transferred the power to appoint top parliament leaders to the cabinet.
Under new Prime Minister Mario Draghi, media watchers expect a reshuffle to occur in July.
This could include the departure of CEO Fabrizio Salini, who has struggled to reverse declining ad revenue and rising debt.
– Political jockey –
Rai is the most watched broadcaster in Italy, with around 36% viewers.
But its position depends on the aging of viewers and is challenged by pay TV platforms, such as Sky Italia, as well as the second competitor Mediaset.
Current Rai chairman Marcello Foa is a Eurosceptic journalist and supporter of Vladimir Putin who has published conspiracy theories online.
He was League chief Matteo Salvini’s choice to lead Rai in 2018, when the League shared power with the populist Five Stars movement.
Although a parliamentary committee initially rejected her nomination, the ruling coalition pushed her against the will of the then Democratic Party, which is now in government.
Rai’s code of ethics published on its website lists as priorities: “freedom, comprehensiveness, transparency, objectivity, impartiality, pluralism and fairness of information”.
The broadcaster’s budget comes from advertising and a license fee paid by Italian households.
The latest outcry comes just days after the broadcaster decided to end so-called “blackfacing” on its channels.
The practice of white performers painting their faces to portray black characters occurred on one of Rai’s weekly variety shows.
© 2021 AFP