Michael Ledeen writes that Italy is dead. He is wrong. Italy is not dead; she is sleeping on her feet. She has got a strange disease whereby her eyes are open but she doesn’t see what’s happening.
It’s worth telling our foreign friends, especially the English-speaking ones, the odd story of how the Guarantor of Privacy decided for this measure, not against all Italian newspapers – as they would have us believe – but against a single newspaper, Il Giornale, for whom, as chance would have it, I work.
Pajamas Media readers should know that for many years Italy has been afflicted with judicial investigations and scandals that, from time to time, have implicated politicians, businessmen, soccer players, and entertainment stars. There is no other country in the world with such an industrious gaggle of magistrates and, above all, there is no other country in the world where wiretapping is so massively used as an investigative tool. Telephone calls are included as exhibits in investigations and when the latter become public, our newspapers do their job: they publish the news.
For several months, an Italian district attorney’s office, that of Potenza, in Basilicata, has been conducting an investigation that resembles a circus: politicians, businessmen, TV stars, soccer players – you name it – have been involved in an incredible racket of drugs, sex, prostitution, exchange of favors and extortion. The key figure in this affair is a paparazzo, a photographer named Fabrizio Corona, who took pictures of “the powerful” in the company of their (real or alleged) lovers and then blackmailed them, asking for money in return for not publishing the compromising photos.
A simple blackmail story becomes a deadly cocktail if the people involved are VIPs, which in this case they most assuredly are. For many months, the newspapers have been publishing all the news that there is on this affair, from evidence reports to wiretappings and interrogations. And rightly so.
But something has suddenly brought the well-oiled mechanism of the Italian news and information system to a screeching halt.
This something has to do with the government of Romano Prodi.
This something is a gentleman by the name of Silvio Sircana, the speaker of the Italian government – a topnotch personality; a public figure. Or so he sometimes seems. But it also seems there is another side to Sircana, the speaker of the Italian government.
The Corona investigation records tell us that in the past few months, the speaker of the government of the Republic of Italy has been followed and photographed by a paparazzo, first as he was dining with a lady, and then as he was approaching, in his car, a transsexual on a sidewalk and having a chat with her. The photographer, with the connivance of Fabrizio Corona, was devising a plot to blackmail the government speaker. This story is on the record.
However, after months of the newspapers publishing everything without showing any scruples for anyone’s privacy, obeying only the motto “publish and be damned,” all newspapers suddenly decided that Sircana’s name had to be omitted and that the government speaker should be spared.
Why? Because he’s got family; because he’s an honest and serious guy; because personal tragedies must be avoided. But these arguments were considered valid only in his case, not for others implicated in this investigation.
Only one newspaper decided to tell the whole story: Il Giornale. And when the story was put on the front page and hell broke loose at the newsstands, Il Giornale instantly became the enemy to shoot down.
Until then, no one had dreamed of interfering to protect the reputation of the VIPs involved in the investigation. But when Il Giornale dared to publish Sircana’s story, the Parliament, the government and, unfortunately, the journalists made a scandal out of it and thus opened the doors to the intervention of the Guarantor of Privacy, which Michael Ledeen writes about in his article.
Now we must ask ourselves why did Italian newspapers omit the name of the government speaker?
The answer is simple: Because of complicity with the authorities and because of the cultural affinity of most Italian daily newspapers with the center-left coalition that is now in power. Of course, this is not the only reason. Many people believe sincerely that things like this belong to the private, not the public, sphere.
The problem is, however, that in this particular case they have adopted for Sircana a standard that they did not adopt for all others touched by the investigation. This is why the decision not to publish Sircana’s name is deeply flawed. It shows the disparity between the treatment received by a powerful person and the treatment reserved for those who cannot defend themselves, by exercising political pressure, from the media.
They decided to not confront a very serious issue: the fact that the government speaker is a potential victim of blackmail. Moreover, if Il Giornale gone along with the pack and had decided to not publish the news, the government would have had its speaker in the inconvenient position of a person who could be blackmailed, since no one can dismiss the possibility that those photographs could be in the hands of other people who might have an interest in keeping them handy.
Can a democracy afford such luxury? Can a press, which calls itself free and independent, close an eye and omit the facts? Would something like this have passed in silence and left unreported in Britain or in the United States?
The surreal, paradoxical result is that today Il Giornale, the only newspaper that decided to publish the news, is under accusation. The Italian government’s Guarantor of Privacy has issued an ordinance prohibiting the publication of any “awkward” news on this affair. This is an ad hoc measure that very closely resembles the gagging of the press.
This is a boomerang for those newspapers that first showed off their decision to not publish the news and now, having read the Guarantor’s diktat, protest because they realize that they helped the hangman set up the scaffold that will serve to hang us all.
Il Giornale, founded in 1974 by Indro Montanelli, is the 4th largest newspaper in Italy.