But it is easy to imagine that most media outlets would buckle under such pressure.

It is also relatively easy for powerful figures with a range of financial interests like Berlusconi to have problematic journalists
fired or transferred. One of the best examples of this involves author and journalist Marco Travaglio, who in September, discovered that his rollover contract as a commentator with the RAI current affairs program AnnoZero was not renewed.

There is no love lost between Berlusconi and Travaglio, who in 2001 co-authored a book called L’Odore dei Soldi (The Smell of Money), which alleged a strong connection
between Berlusconi’s rapid rise and his reported ties to organized crime families.
The book has sold 18 million copies so far—an astonishing figure in a country where only around 100 million new books are sold each year—and helped set Travaglio up as one of the most visible critics of the prime minister.
RAI officials continue to deny it, but when Travaglio lost his soapbox on AnnoZero, few

doubted the direct or indirect influence of Berlusconi played a role.

“I think Berlusconi gave a precise order because he wanted to silence one of his most vocal critics and to send a message to other critics out there,” Travaglio says.

Michele Santoro, the program’s host (and himself a victim of Berlusconi’s wrath from 2002 when the prime minister had him temporarily moved to an off-screen job at RAI), insisted Travaglio be reinstated.

Marco Travaglio, shown here at a July 2008 rally against Berlusconi, is one of the premierís most voacl and visible critics.

At first RAI offered to do so under specific conditions: that the government be given a voice to rebuke statements during the program, for example, or that equal time be given to an opposing voice to counter-balance Travaglio’s views. Santoro refused, and after public outcry over the events grew, Travaglio was reinstated.

Emboldened, Travaglio has since started Il Fatto (The Fact), a daily newspaper that he says is Italy’s first completely free of special interest influence. Economically supported by ad sales and subscriptions alone, it was profitable out of the gate. It has already earned a few scoops, and its commentaries are raising eyebrows across Italy and beyond.

“There are very worrying signs about the issue of press freedom in Italy, but there are positive signs as well,” he says. “Maybe the current Berlusconi era will be seen as a war that the Italian media goes through in order to emerge healthier on the other side.”

Others are less sure. “Each lawsuit, each time someone in the media loses their job for the news they state, that lowers the quality of programming and it acts as a disincentive for the best people to go into media,” says Affinito. “Eventually, that has a big effect on the public discourse, when there’s no doubt that a healthy public discourse
is at the heart of a healthy democracy.”

Berlusconi’s spokesman did not reply to requests to be interviewed for this article.

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