“Worst enemies of press freedom are journalists themselves”

Apprehensive and hopeful, at 7pm , Frontline club is packed with  host BBC 4 radio presenter Steve Hewlett, panelists and members all gathered to discuss the extent to which former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi influenced the media and its future after his resignation last year. With a majority italians, the evening’s panel and audience included a large number of journalists, academics and thinkers from Italy and the UK, two countries where the media’s conduct and independence has become an urgent part of the national agenda.

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Interestingly, condemnation of Berlusconi’s media involvement was not wholesale. Paolo Mancini, University of Perugia said,

“Everyone here will expect me to say one thing but I don’t think Berlusconi is controlling the media. It’s overstated.”

“Berlusconi tried to limit freedom of journalists but he did not succeed because there was the opposition press, particularly the print media,” agreed Gianpietro Mazzoleni, from the University of Milan.

“RAI 3 constantly make shows that have continued to keep people alive and alert people against Berlusconi “

However, some industry insiders were not convinced. Mattia Bagnoli, UK correspondent at the Italian news agency ANSA opposed:

“I must say he controlled much of the Italian media for a long time. We are not talking about news here but we are talking about culture and reality shows. What’s on television is a reflection of what he projects on to Italian people to enjoy life.”

“He had control in the media not only through television but also through print in the form of advertising through his company Mondadori,” he added.

As with all modern European countries, most Italians depend on television for their source of news and information. So was Berlusconi clever in choosing his medium?

Marco Niada, former bureau chief of Il Sole 24, said his television empire failed to keep pace with new media.

“He knows many Italian people don’t read. He thought without imposing too much influence through paper he could control them through TV. However, he started to be defeated by technology. He was still stuck in terrestrial TV and social media started to take over.”

It didn’t take long for the lurid saga of Berlusconi’s bunga bunga parties to surface. Giovanni, an Italian documentary director, pointed out coverage of the scandal in mainstream Italian TV media was poor, saying most people relied on the internet. Meanwhile a reporter from the Financial Times defended the Italian news output: “Don’t make the Italian media sound clandestine. La Repubblica went all out to cover the scandal extensively for days.”

Mattia added, “As an Italian news agency we are obliged to cover it impartially and we did.”

The discussion swiftly moved into the future of Italian media, now that Berlusconi is gone.

Mattia and Gianpietro weren’t entirely optimistic, as they feel many of the Italian MPs are still linked to Berlusconi.

“Mario Monti is here just to bring the country back from default. They need to rewrite the constitution for RAI,” said Mattia.

“Monti factor is crucial at this point,” said Gianpietro. We don’t know about the future but we can guess, Monti will take the opportunity to reform RAI but he will be cautious.”

Coming back to the question of press freedom, Steve asked whether a more liberal Italian media is possible in five years. Marco said,

“Worst enemies of press freedom are journalists themselves, It will take more than five years. “

As the Leveson Enquiry uncovers more evidence of press corruption in the UK, these words may ring true for the British and Italian news industries alike.

Meeting Italian PM Mario Monti in London

I was chuffed when my Senior Producer Rose asked me in to work for the Italian PMs first visit to London since being elected. A lot of details about his visit were obscure till late Monday evening and was to be confirmed only Tuesday, something you start getting used to working in news.

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When events such like these take place you have to be ready for many surprises as the day starts to unfold. At the last minute I hear about his visit to the Financial Times office in Southwark. I rushed with the camera crew, not many of the other media were there as this was not officially listed on the Italian government website governo.it

A lot about covering events like these is ensuring you are on top of your logistics, building entrances etc. Assumptions just don’t work. I had to make sure we were at the right place and not some back entrance, to film the first shots of his arrival.We managed to get hold of the Italian embassy press officer with only a few minutes to go, who confirmed details of filming access. I heard about a 20 minute delay in his arrival, and my feet were numb in the cold.

So what was Monti here for and what was he going to discuss? In the wake of what happened to the Costa Concordia that submerged in Giglio, I wondered if that would come up in the press conference, and right enough it did. Monti’s response to Costa Concordia sinking was ‘This could not and should not have happened”

He was here to reassure Britain to explain what they are doing to assure their finances are back on track. Since being elected, a lot of what he plans to do is tackle tax evasion and organised crime which is impacting the money flow within the country. With more regulations in place for borrowing many people have now turned to borrowing from mafia controlled private operators which is further digging a hole to the Italian economy.

At London Stock Exchange he is then heard saying ‘ We expect a shift in the mentality of tax payers and in the behaviour of tax payers in Italy. Growth is key.’

How much of this can be tackled? Much of the situation he is in reminds me of the time Obama took over from Bush and how he continues to battle it out every day still trying to undo all the damage Bush has done over the many years. However in this situation , its trying to turn around Berlusconi’s mess.

I was not up to speed with details of the other events at London School of Economics and the Stock Exchange but while I was in Houghton Street at the School of economics heard a group of protesters fighting against Montis plan to force through 33billion Euros of Cuts saying similar cuts have devastated the greek economy.

I had to rush back with my tapes and was hoping not to be stuck in traffic again. Back in the office I was reliant on twitter, and local feeds closely following his programme for the rest of the evening. Its too soon to say anything since its only two months since he has been in power. Speaking to most Italians they do feel that he has saved the ship from sinking further, only time will tell.

Occupy London Stock Exchange, since a week ago

Going back to the protests on Friday and Saturday, reminded me of how much had changed since the first day. The unity among the people out there was unwavering, however the message a bit incoherent. At times, I thought it was the same point said in a few different ways.

St. Paul’s was surrounded by more than two hundred tents compared to two I had seen last time. And by now the Canon had changed his mind on whether he really wanted to support them as it was disrupting daily church activities, and further impacted donations that averaged between £18k -20 k per day.

However on speaking with some of the protesters, I realised they had plans of moving nowhere. With the exception of a few hundreds that have now set up base in Finsbury square not too far away from St. Paul’s. And then many of my friends and colleagues question whether these are people with jobs  or are they just here whiling away their time in the tents and enjoying the sunshine.

I can’t speak for all, but of the few I met there, I knew had jobs to go back to. They took turns to camp out there on their days off and returned to work the following day. And I realised if you were looking for a tent, people would lend you theirs as long as you took responsibility till the next day.

A lot of this surprised me, especially after moving to a city where an image is built of gang culture, burglars, scam operators, traffickers etc. Not like they don’t exist, it does as in every big city.  But at the heart of it, I can say personally the peaceful demonstrations has dispelled unnecessary fears of the rebellious and violent culture along the streets of London that has been projected in the media more recently. And especially after the riots restored faith in many around that we are all human, and this is what it feels to be part of a community and fight for something you care about.

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In a week’s time, it was commendable to see a library, a canteen, tech tent, a university, meditation room, night loos in place. The protesters were even respectful of a wedding that was taking place the same morning at the cathedral and stopped their speeches for awhile. Indeed a historic moment for the couple too

As I had to leave, Leo informed me, by then many of the protesters and attendees to the Saturday anniversary event moved to a nearby teach in by the ‘Tent University’ where several economists and writers gathered to share their perspective on the issue of Capitalism based on well-researched and thorough facts. Polly Toynbee from the Guardian said, ” If the ten per cent richest in the UK paid twenty percent of their wealth and property tax, not income, deficit would be cleared at a stroke.”

And so much so that “25 trillion dollars of private wealth is actually held in tax havens.”

Much remains to be seen as to what happens next. A manifesto is in place; perhaps a little bit coherence and practical goals will change things. The church is now in a legal battle to have the protesters move, whether they do is a question that remains unanswered.

We are the 99 per cent

The weather a bit unusual for London, this time of the year. The skies were clear and there was a beautiful bright sunshine with a cool breeze that filled the air. Perfect weather for cycling to Regent’s Park and having a picnic at Primrose hill, however such was not the case

After hearing about Occupy London Stock Exchange at work yesterday, I was keen to experience  what was going to take off in St. Paul’s Churchyard.  Was this going to be a repeat from Tahrir square ?After a quick coffee, I made my way to get to St. Pauls Cathedral where young people with a dream and a fire in their belly plunged into the heart of action demonstrating against alleged corporate greed around the world.

No sooner I got there, I saw the streets filled with police vans from a distance outside St. Paul’s station. I walked ahead trying to make way to the stairs and the roads were cordoned off. I could hear people campaigning and shouting slogans from inside the churchyard but wasn’t allowed in

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More protesters were arriving and were furious the police were blocking entry to the main area for fear the peaceful demonstration might turn violent. In the meanwhile I met a photographer and he was following timely updates from twitter on his mobile. I got to know Julian Assange was in there addressing the crowds. After climbing onto a few gates to get a glimpse into the action, I saw people walk in from a different alley. I immediately got down and we went there. The police were asking questions, however I smiled and we were let in.

The square inside  St. Pauls Churchyard was nicknamed  ‘Tahrir Square”. A lot of people stopped by to do some photography.  The atmosphere was great, you could tell people were angry with the government and the number of cuts and were there to fight for a chance to live their dreams chanting things like ” Bankers your days are numbered” “Cameron needs a reality check and Obama’s hands are tied.”

Shouting slogans ‘We are the 99 per cent” “Governments should serve the people not banks”, there was a lot of resentment on the streets. Protesters included many young people, unemployed graduates and pensioners hoping for a change. Some of them were in the process of setting up their tents, and preparing to camp several nights out there. but I overheard this wasn’t going to be allowed by the police.

Why was I there? Not until a few months ago I was one among the many unemployed graduates who felt taken advantage by the whole work experience and internship system in media companies because of these greedy cats who abused the financial system, as a result of which there have been many cuts that has had an impact on the media industry among others

Watching the film ‘Inside Job’ further infuriated me and as more financial corruption scandals start to unfold, I wonder if the regulators are still sleeping as the  greed and corruptions continues. Not so long ago, the very controversial Alessio Rostani candidly said  “Traders don’t really care about how the government will fix the economy, our job is to make money from it.” This saw many jaws dropped, including the BBC interviewers. “Clearly governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world.” he added. But this is exactly how traders are taught to think, just very few admit it,  If you read the Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort, it talks about exactly the same thing, big risks, private jets,  escorts, and  billion dollar deals,  that sums up the situation we are in today.

What started in New York has gone global with smaller demonstrations in Rome, Sydney Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Stockholm, Zurich, and Frankfurt. Unlike Rome and Frankfurt, I must say the demonstrations were peaceful however; as I walked to the other side I saw the streets filled with riot police.

People around me said these protests would go on for as long as they saw some justice, with some even planning to storm into the buildings of the Royal Bank of Scotland and Northern Rock on a Monday morning.

Thank you Steve Jobs

London’s Regent street bids farewell to Jobs

 

Not a big fan of iphones, but definitely an avid user of the Mac, I was moved by what I what I saw on my lunch break on Regent Street the day Jobs was no more

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London riots, as it was for me

I would be lying if I said I didn’t fear for life my life walking the streets London, given the state of recent events. The domino effect of the riots in the past three days has been tremendous and shocking. And often just leaves me wondering, why? Mark Duggan, I don’t think so, lack of unemployment, not sure, though I can say the greed, thieving, vandalism and looting from innocent families and local shop owners has raised many questions about this kind of human behaviour and violence from the young

On Monday morning,  my usual commute of an hour to get to Central London, turned into a two-hour nightmare. With Brixton station closed, I had to explore other ways of getting to Central London from Crystal Palace. I was treading in lanes and streets I’d never been before, to get to work on time

Passing by Brixton on a Sunday evening I saw banners and the festive mood for a Jamaican Festival. I least suspected the reason for massive crowd gatherings in the centre . Who knew that evening heightened into a series of more carnage

Work this past two days was  particularly stressful , with my colleagues in the field scrambling to get their best shots and sound bytes amidst the carnage and putting their lives at risk.Indeed social networks were a big help with the public feeding in regular updates in places where the clashes erupted. I had to be careful of the information I was passing to the crew to make sure they were in the right place at the right time .

As a journalist, what’s happening now  makes for great television footage and pictures, but definitely not for the reputation of London in the run up to the Olympics 2012.

Speaking to the RAI TV crew yesterday morning from last night’s filming, I heard things were brutal in some areas, such as Croydon, Peckham and Clapham Junction and they feared for their lives too. Dario, our Editor said the thugs were throwing bricks from a distance and they weren’t even equipped with the right helmets or any protective gear, should something have gone terribly wrong

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Coming back to Brixton last night was rather different. I took the bus to see if anything could have changed. No sooner I got off the station, the streets were empty, not a usual sight to see at 8 pm in Brixton, it was unbelievably quiet. It was all a bit eerie, you could tell something was wrong. Never had I seen so many police patrolling the streets of London, both at Oxford Street earlier and now the Brixton Station Road hit by the riots late Sunday. You can tell people are in a state of shock and panic and fear leaving their homes.

With the riots spreading to West Midlands, Manchester, Salford and other areas of England, who knows what more is to come