Russian propaganda brings Italy into the conversation

vsself-satisfied, ambiguous, propagandistic and subservient. Italy’s public and private television networks, accused of giving too much space in their programs to Russian journalists close to Vladimir Putin and unopposed pro-Russian academics, are in the hot seat. And one question is on everyone’s lips now: Can we say anything in the name of freedom of expression?

Nothing is less certain after statements made live last Sunday by the head of Russia’s diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov. Especially since after this show it turned into a real state affair. The Supervisory Committee of Rai, the parliamentary body that controls the public media, and the Parliamentary Committee on State Security (Copasir) have decided to launch an investigation. Objective: to shape televised debates to avoid attempts to manipulate public opinion.

Red carpet in Lavrov

Last Sunday, Sergei Lavrov chose Rete4, the transalpine channel of the Mediaset group founded by Silvio Berlusconi, which is very close to Vladimir Putin, to speak to a European medium for the first time. The mood was relaxed and the moderator allowed the Russian Foreign Minister to retell the story in 40 minutes without interrupting him. He then wished him “good work” and thanked him for being on the show.

“It was overwhelming to wish the head of diplomacy a good job while Russian troops are killing thousands of people, it sent chills down my spine!” said Sofia Ventura, professor of political and social sciences at the University of Bologna. During his speech, Sergey Lavrov first compared Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Adolf Hitler, who “also had Jewish blood”. Conclusion: One can be Jewish, anti-Semitic and support Nazi movements, hence the importance of the military operation launched by Vladimir Putin to “denazify” his neighbor. These comments angered Israel and prompted the Russian President to apologize to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (see box). Sergey Lavrov also assured that Moscow wants to avoid nuclear war and that the Western media manipulates the truth about Russia’s real goals.

Freedom of expression is fundamental, but debates must be balanced so that they do not degenerate into propaganda, which is not the case in Italy.

Sofia Ventura, Professor of Political and Social Sciences

Identical comments had been made three days earlier by Alessandro Orsini, Professor of Sociology of Terrorism at LUISS University (Rome). Loaded onto television on time, the academic recently caused an uproar when he claimed that Adolf Hitler did not intend to start World War II by invading Poland. He added that European countries started the war by forming military alliances. For Sofia Ventura, “Alessandro Orsini manipulates history to partially justify the invasion of Ukraine by blaming NATO for the war, journalists listen to him without contradicting him, and this type of speech can have a significant impact that Italians support Putin.”

Debates should be better designed

According to a study by the opinion research institute SWG, 37.5% of Italians support Russia. Another poll by the research institute Demos & Pi confirms that 23% of Transalpines believe that the crimes committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine are part of the false reports spread by the Ukrainian government. Finally, 46% of respondents say the media distorts or controls news about the war.

“Against this background of great skepticism, the media should review their code of conduct. Freedom of expression is important, but debates must be balanced so that they do not turn into propaganda, which is not the case in Italy,” affirms Sofia Ventura. Above all, this means that the presence of an opponent must be guaranteed in order to allow the spectators to form an opinion and to react. And above all, control the list of speakers to avoid propaganda.

“Since the beginning of the war, the debate and the information have been distorted, resembling televisions in living rooms where discussions are held without deepening the real issues,” analyzes Sofia Ventura. Reality is changed, the bad guys become the good guys and vice versa, it’s not very ethical.” Awaiting the results of the parliamentary inquiry, several academics and political scientists have decided to abandon the television sets. Goal: not to take part in propaganda actions.

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