Usigrai poster over journalists RAI strike action

Journalists at RAI strike

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Journalists at Italian public broadcaster RAI take strike action. They accuse Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government of stifling free speech.

RAI has rebuffed claims of censorship, asserting its transition into a “modern digital media company.” The broadcaster also accused the journalists of striking for “ideological and political reasons” that “have nothing to do with workers’ rights”.

However, Usigrai, the journalists’ union, contends that the situation has deteriorated since Meloni assumed office in late 2022.

“We prefer to lose one or more days of pay than to lose our freedom,” Usigrai, the trade union representing around 1,600 of RAI’s 2,000 journalists, said in a video defending the 24-hour walkout on Monday.

Usigrai points out staffing shortages, noting that retiring employees are not being replaced, and some journalists are left with precarious temporary contracts.

“We have always fought against every effort to gag freedom of speech, but I want to make it plain that what has been happening in recent months is unprecedented,” Vittorio di Trapani, a RAI journalist and head of the Italian National Press Federation (FNSI) told the news agency Reuters.

RAI has refuted these complaints, alleging that the unions orchestrated a politically motivated strike and asserting that no censorship has been imposed on its staff.

RAI still on air

Despite the strike, RAI’s main lunchtime news programs on its primary TV channels aired largely uninterrupted, while its 24-hour news channel, RAI24, broadcast predominantly pre-recorded content.

As a publicly-funded broadcaster with its top management appointed by politicians, RAI’s independence, with a primetime audience TV share of about 39%, has long been a topic of debate. The ascension of Meloni, who forged a coalition with Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party and the late Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing Forza Italia, has heightened concerns.

Italy’s standing in the World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has declined this year to 46th place, five spots lower than in 2023. This drop comes amidst worries about increased government influence on media and a recent surge in legal actions taken by politicians against journalists.

International Federation of Journalists support RAI strike action 

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (FNSI) and European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) all gave full support to the strikers.

When RAI rebutted the journalists’ claims, the FNSI General Secretary Alessandra Costante and the FNSI President, Vittorio Di Trapani, reacted immediately: “This is a very serious act to conceal what is really happening in the public service. (…) Accusing hundreds of colleagues of spreading fake news to damage the company is a very serious act as well as a mass distraction operation to hide what is really happening in the public service media”.

“For years we have been calling for greater independence for public broadcasting in Italy,” said EFJ President Maja Sever.

“Instead of following the spirit of the new European Media Freedom Act, which will consolidate the independence of public broadcasters in Europe, the Italian government is engaging in a political capture of RAI, in defiance of the right of Italian citizens to access free, independent and pluralist information”.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said, “We stand in full solidarity with RAI journalists, whose press freedom and ethical principles are being undermined by the Italian government. We remind RAI of its need to respect fundamental journalistic principles as they are stated in the IFJ Global Charter of Ethics for journalists. Your fight is our fight”.

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