Italian Media Monopoly

Silvio Berlusconi, photo: vas vas/flickr

When speaking of press freedom, Western European countries usually score highest in rankings from institutions like Freedom House or Reporters Without Borders. They are all declared as “free” with one notable exception: Italy.

In the 2009 report Freedom House downgraded Italy from “free” to “partly free”, highlighting worrisome trends that have been underlined by recent events.

In February of this year four managers from Google Italy’s YouTube branch had to stand trial because of accusations regarding privacy violations. This was only one month after Italian officials proposed a new law against online copyright infringement which holds responsible companies that host and broadcast copyright protected content illegally (i.e. YouTube). Meanwhile, Google is still engaged in a similar legal dispute with Mediaset, a private media corporation controlled by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

On 2 March 2010 the administrative council of Italy’s public television network RAI announced that two popular political talk shows will not be allowed to broadcast for one month until regional elections are over. State officials justified the decision by pointing to a law that guarantees equal opportunity of representation on public media channels to all parties. However, opponents argue that the decision is purely political as the two talk shows “Anno Zero” and “Balla-rò” have heavily criticized Berlusconi in the past.

Taunting Tolerance in Indonesia

Girls listening to religious teaching, photo: Paul Arps/flickr

Indonesia has long been known as a vibrant, tolerant and resilient country. With the world’s largest Muslim population, a fledgling democracy and a surprisingly vibrant economy (with corruption and poor infrastructure still hampering growth), Indonesia has, quite spectacularly, turned doomsday scenarios in the turbulent aftermath of the Suharto era to a laudable success story of post-colonial and post-authoritarian reconstruction.

While the economy bubbles along (surprisingly well given the global circumstances, as an Economist Special Report noted last year), Indonesian society is going through a process of self-discovery. With roots in arguably the most historically pluralistic form of Islam practiced in the Muslim world, Indonesians are looking to find their footing somewhere in between these roots and the shoots of a modern society that pushes for women’s rights, freedom of expression and further tolerance.

Even though Islamic political parties have never dominated the public realm in Indonesia (à la Malaysia, for example) with their support dropping by more than 10 percent to 26 percent in the 2009 legislative elections, a degree of accommodation has characterized the political process in the past. Although the government has been resolute in its pursuit of radical extremists, among them the infamous Jemaah Islamiyah group, it has also tolerated groups, preachers and religious schools that promote a more orthodox and intolerant (and arguably un-Indonesian) form of Islam.