ROME (Reuters) – An Italian parliamentary panel has opened an investigation into “disinformation” on television amid a heated debate over the frequent appearance of Russian guests on the country’s news programmes during the war in Ukraine.
The Parliamentary Committee for the Security of the Republic (Copasir) which oversees the intelligence services, said on Wednesday it had summoned the heads of Italy’s state TV network, state security agency and communications watchdog.
The panel said it was looking into “foreign interference and disinformation activity … with particular reference to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine”.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi has taken a tough line on Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 but opinion polls show that in Italy – unlike in Europe’s other G7 states Britain, France, and Germany – there is little public support for sending weapons to Ukraine.
Italy’s public broadcaster RAI as well and its four main private channels regularly host Russian journalists on their talk shows to debate with their Italian counterparts about the war, an approach that has heightened divisions in the country.
While some commentators say it is right to hear both sides of the conflict, others condemn giving air space to what they call Russian “propagandists”.
The dispute has intensified since Sunday, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov chose Italy’s private channel Rete 4 to give his first interview with a European television network since the invasion began.
Critics said the interviewer failed to challenge or interrupt Lavrov enough. Some said the Russian minister should not have been interviewed at all. Draghi himself weighed into the debate the following day, saying the interview was “not much good”.
Italy has no tradition of aggressive television interviews with politicians.
Some pundits and experts have begun refusing to participate on talk shows in protest at space being given to what they define as Russian propaganda.
Nathalie Tocci, head of Italy’s Institute for International Affairs, on Tuesday declined to appear on a programme because a fellow guest was from Russia’s defence ministry, saying she was “not willing to become an accomplice to disinformation”.
On the other hand Lucio Caracciolo, one of Italy’s most prominent geopolitical experts and founder of Limes, a respected world affairs journal, continues to make daily talk-show appearances on private channel La7.
Caracciolo dismissed the Copasir investigation as “a joke,” saying “if we want to take it seriously we would have to think they want to set up a Ministry of Truth”.
Moscow says the Western media have provided an excessively partial narrative of the war. Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
(Editing by Frances Kerry)