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Italian senator goes on a hunger strike

June 4, 2009

By Guy Dinmore in Rome. June 4, 2009

In the last days of Italy?s European election campaign where gossip and
scandal have triumphed over substance, Emma Bonino, former EU
commissioner for humanitarian affairs, has resorted to a little reported
hunger strike in the studios of Rai, the state broadcaster.

?In Italy nobody knows what they are voting for, what is the European
parliament, who is standing or on what platform,? a hoarse Ms Bonino
told the FT on Wednesday after 36 hours without food or drink.

Ms Bonino, 61, an opposition senator in the Italian parliament who heads
her small Radical party list for the European elections, is demanding
that Rai take action to redress unbalanced political coverage as exposed
by Agcom, an official watchdog.

Ms Bonino and fellow deputy Marco Beltrandi shocked Rai by refusing to
leave its Saxa Rubra studios after a recording on Tuesday. Since then
they have been joined by over 70 supporters on hunger strike at Rai?s
main Rome headquarters.

Their protests so far have received only modest media coverage yet go to
the heart of what many observers see as a structural flaw in Italian
politics. Perpetuating a relic of the cold war era, the main ruling and
opposition parties divide up key institutional posts, including Rai,
while Silvio Berlusconi, billionaire centre-right prime minister,
continues to exert influence over his own media empire.

For much of the past month, airwaves and news pages have been filled by
emerging details of the friendship between Mr Berlusconi, 72, and Noemi
Letizia, an aspiring model 54 years his junior who calls him ?daddy?.
Veronica Lario, the prime minister?s wife, is seeking a divorce.

Giorgio Napolitano, head of state, took the unusual step of speaking out
on national day this week, urging politicians to ?moderate? their voices
in the interests of the country.

The Radicals stressed that Ms Bonino was not simply demanding that Rai
give more coverage to the Radicals and other small parties, but was
upholding the principle that the state broadcaster comply with the law.

?Italians are getting too used to a context in which democracy is an
option,? commented Filippo di Robilant, Radical party spokesman.

The main opposition Democratic party criticised impartial television
coverage of the election campaign but its statement focused on Mr
Berlusconi?s own channels rather than Rai, and did not mention Ms
Bonino. Her supporters said this was further evidence of the Democrats?
quiet complicity on some issues with the ruling party.

Mr Berlusconi predicts that his People of Liberty, backed by the allied
Northern League, will take over 50 per cent of this weekend?s vote. The
Radicals and other small parties risk winning no seats if they do not
pass a four per cent threshold.

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