Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi this week (21 October) avoided official condemnation by the European Parliament, highlighting divisions among MEPs over what some see as a purely national issue.
MEPs voting at their plenary session on Strasbourg on Wednesday narrowly rejected a resolution denouncing the lack of press freedom in Italy.
Parliamentarians rejected a European Commission proposal for EU legislation to protect media pluralism in Europe by the narrowest of margins, with 338 votes against and 335 in favour amid 13 abstentions.
The proposed European Parliament resolution on freedom of information in Italy, tabled by the centre-left and primarily seen as an attack on Berlusconi and his media empire, fell by just three votes.
The motion would have seen the Parliament condemn political interference with the media and call for EU legislation to ban media monopolies in Europe.
The European centre-right, represented by the European People’s Party (EPP), the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and European Freedom and Democracy (EFD) groups, successfully defeated the motion, which was backed by a centre-left bloc comprising the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Liberals (ALDE), Greens and leftists (GUE/NGL).
The EPP had argued that the European Parliament was not the appropriate forum to discuss national issues or make a case against the governments of individual EU countries.
Rebel liberals halt left’s attack
Almost 100% of MEPs voted along party lines, meaning decisions by Italian ALDE member Vincenzo Iovine to vote against the resolution and abstentions by Irish Fianna Fáil MEPs Liam Aylward, Brian Crowley and Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher (all ALDE) handed victory to the right.
Indeed, the vote indicates how difficult it will be for the left to stop a united right, which emerged stronger from June’s European elections after the EPP’s emphatic victory, from dominating the new EU assembly.
British Labour member Claude Moraes, S&D group spokesman on civil liberties, condemned the ALDE rebels for triggering the rejection of the resolution and was quick to hail the “remarkable unity and coherence” of his own group.
“It is deeply sad to notice that three Irish ALDE members abstained and one Italian ALDE member voted against the compromise,” Moraes said, blaming “lack of cohesion in the ALDE group” for the defeat.
Asked to explain the Irish members’ decision, a Fianna Fáil spokesman told the Irish Examiner that “we have a tradition of opposing anything that would interfere with national domestic issues”.
The European centre-right, meanwhile, hailed its victory, with EPP group chair Joseph Daul saying the whole affair had exposed “the bad faith of certain political groups, who tried to hide behind the principle of freedom of information to attack their political opponents”.
Publishers welcome result
European newspaper publishers, for their part, said taking action at EU level would not have made sense and praised the Parliament for its “wise” decision.
“What had started as a debate on a national issue too quickly turned to proposals for illogical solutions at the EU level,” the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA) said in a statement, warning that EU legislation on media pluralism and concentration “could in fact decrease, not increase the level of media pluralism”.
“The EU cannot regulate diversity just as it is impossible to regulate ethics and morals,” said ENPA President Valdo Lehari Jr.
Meanwhile, media watchdog ‘Reporters Without Borders’ this week (20 October) published its 2009 report on press freedom, putting Italy 49th in a list of 173 countries worldwide.