Monday, July 31, 2006


Silvio Berlusconi’s influence pervades Italian society, his reign as Prime Minister is now, probably, over but no doubt his control over Italian television and news media will continue. He continues to own the largest share of Italy’s media.
Sabina Guzzanti’s satirical show was cancelled a few years ago by RAI after she singled out Berlusconi for criticism. Guzzanti’s documentery ‘Viva Zapatero!’, currently showing at the Odeon Covent Garden is a chronicle of the events leading up to and the aftermath of the cancellation of her show, she also focuses on other broadcasters who have lost their jobs after criticising Berlusconi.

Guzzanti’s show RAIot was pulled after one episode and within hours the press had begun a campaign of criticism of Guzzanti’s show. Many arguments were used against the show which revolved around definitions of what ‘satire’ really meant. The conclusion of Berlusconi’s supporters both in parliament and in the press was that Guzzanti’s show was not satirical because it was not humorous or amusing and was unnecessarily harsh in its portrayal of the Italian Prime Minister and other political figures in his party, they concluded that therefore Guzzanti was not producing a satirical television show but something that created an image of itself to the public as an alternative news programme and as such outside the remit of its commission. Guzzanti has since then campaigned against the decision by the managers of the RAI media company and a subsequent legal ruling determined the shows status as satire and therefore RAI’s decision to cancel the show was unlawful. The show was never reinstated and Sabina Guzzanti continues her campaign by asking those involved in its cancellation to answer for their actions.
‘Viva Zapatero!’ follows Guzzanti as she asks a variety of satirists (including Rory Bremner) in other countries about their view of the course of events and how it relates to issues in their native countries. Italian journalists, comedians and broadcasters who have suffered a similar fate recount their experiences of the Italian media machine under the control of Berlusconi. Many experienced broadcasters have been removed from their jobs, several who are familiar faces from 20 or 30 years of television journalism in Italy remain out of work despite their experience and the respect by the Italian public. Newspaper journalists explain the threats to their careers or the indiscrimate editing of their work if their criticism of the Italian political classes is deemed too harsh. Editors of national newspapers have been forced to resign and even the centre-left political parties seem unwilling to enforce existing laws or pass new ones to limit the influence of Berlusconi over the media.

During the recent Berlusconi reign Italy’s press has seen it’s reputation fall from one which was considered ‘free’ to only ‘partly free’. It remains to be seen whether the recently elected centre-left coalition will redress this but for now despite Silvio Berlusconi’s removal by the Italian electorate Guzzanti’s film is still relevant due to his continued ownership of so many media interests.

Guzzanti’s film comes across as a little self-indulgent but the stakes for her fellow performers, broadcasters and the Italian people are high.
The ownership of the media in Britain is less concentrated than Italy but I left this enjoyable film with the slight nagging feeling that the manipulation and interference in our lives by the current political elite with the support of the British media is not too dissimilar. But then again Blair and his friends often holiday in Italy, I wonder who they holiday with?.


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