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Italy

The ‘fake news’ journalist made president of Italy’s state broadcaster Rai

Appointment of Marcello Foa raises fears over press freedom

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 12:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 12:18pm

Marcello Foa, a Eurosceptic journalist who has often shared stories proved to be fake, has been appointed president of Rai, in a move that has raised fears over the autonomy of Italy’s state broadcaster.

Foa, who also holds anti-gay, anti-immigration, anti-vaccine and pro-Russia views, was pushed for the role by the governing coalition of the far-right League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) despite concerns from journalists’ unions.

The parliamentary committee that oversees Rai voted in favour of Foa late on Wednesday after Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party dropped its opposition to his candidacy.

Foa, 55, told the committee earlier that “Rai must promote an authentic political, cultural and religious pluralism, and in respect for all”.

A former journalist with Berlusconi’s Il Giornale newspaper, he added that the mandate received from the government is “professional” and not “political”.

“I have never served any political party or sought support for my career … the mandate appeals to my professional career, I intend to honour it in the name of journalistic values,” he said.

Rai’s journalist union, Usigrai, had urged the committee to carry out an “in-depth assessment to ensure the legitimacy” of the candidate.

Fake stories shared by Foa included one during the US presidential election campaign about Hillary Clinton taking part in satanic dinners and another about a supposed plan to overthrow Donald Trump.

He has also said that being gay is abnormal and that giving babies vaccines could provoke a “shock” in the child.

He has expressed admiration for Steve Bannon and Vladimir Putin, and in the past has collaborated with the state-funded Russian news outlets RT TV and Sputnik.

Industry sources said that Foa’s appointment is likely to prompt journalists at Rai to resign in protest. “They fear the loss of freedom,” said one source.

Many speculate that Foa’s appointment was made possible after Berlusconi struck a deal with Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister and leader of the League, ensuring that his business interests would be protected from government interference. Berlusconi owns the rival media company, Mediaset.

It may also be linked to upcoming regional elections, which Forza Italia will compete in as part of a centre-right coalition with the League and Brothers of Italy.

“Foa won the vote because of the Berlusconi accord,” said the source.

Before the vote, M5S leader Luigi Di Maio described Foa as an “independent journalist”.

When Foa was first mooted in July, Di Maio said he would help purge the “parasites” installed by mainstream parties who had led Rai for decades.

“M5S’s election campaign spoke about ‘no more conflict of interest’ and ‘no more Berlusconi’, then this happens,” said the source.

“Unfortunately, that’s what populist movements are like.”