On the first day of Russia’s invasion, February 24, the main broadcasters changed completely their schedules offering long marathons in the studio like Rai 1 with Monica Maggioni director of Tg1 (the oldest and most prestigious TV news program in Italy) and La7 with its director Enrico Mentana (MaratonaMentana). As soon as they launched the marathon, it was evident there was a total inability to provide news and video images of what was really happening in Ukraine, at least during the first days. As usual, the social media coverage especially on Twitter and Facebook was more efficient.
Mediaset’s satirical news program Striscia la Notizia, on air for over twenty years, challenged Rai with its segment “Rai Scoglio column” asking the reasons why, despite the presence of seven Rai journalists in Ukraine and neighboring countries, Tg1 didn’t send anyone to the capital of Kyiv. Initially, to cover the Russian invasion, Tg1 was relying on external journalist - Valerio Nicolosi of Micromega (a political & cultural magazine probably inspired by a tale by Voltaire), or asked Tg2 for a hand with the tireless journalists Piergiorgio Giacovazzo and Leonardo Zellino.
Anyway, the most embarrassing moment of the Italian public television was reached during a live broadcast on Rai 3, when two important journalist like Lucia Annunziata and Antonio Di Bella commented – probably thinking not to be on air – that the Ukrainians are a people of “waiters, caregivers and lovers”. This emerged off-air during a live connection of Tg3 outside the Russian embassy in Rome. A bad sentence considering that many Ukrainians have studied, graduated and over the years have reached Italy in search of a better future, adapting, and doing even more humble jobs for sustaining their family at home. However, according to the words spoken by Lucia Annunziata, host of the show Mezz’ora in Più, the comment came during the Tg3 special on the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, which exploded in the middle of the night of February 24 after President Vladimir Putin’s order. Of course, the episode created a series of negative comments and indignation on our social media.
Unfortunately, there was more. During a live feed with a correspondent in Ukraine talking about the first bombs, Tg2 broadcast some video footage of the War and Thunders videogame and once again the social media exploded.
More controversies were unleashed by the correspondent in Moscow, accused of being too pro-Russian, for a “politically incorrect” phrase pronounced by Marc Innaro (head of the correspondence office in Moscow since 2014) during an interview with a documentary filmmaker, Sara Reginella, who justified the invasion with the repression of the Russian-speaking population in Donbas. Immediately, the political reaction was strong: the political secretary of the PD Enrico Letta promised that the case will reach the Rai Surveillance Commission, putting the journalist’s job at risk. In the same hours, on RaiNews 24 - the all-news channel directed by Paolo Petrecca, close to the Fratelli d’Italia (political right party) – the journalist Gianluca Semprini was interviewing the writer Sara Reginella, author of the book “Donbas, the Ghost War in the Heart of Europe”. And once again, another political member of the left party was asking the parliamentary supervisory commission to verify what was happening during the public news programs. The independent journalist and researcher based in Kyiv, Olga Tokariuk, immediately tweeted: “Unbelievable that while Russia is bombing Ukrainian cities, killing children and other civilians, there are journalist on the Italian public TV RAI who are spreading disinformation on air about mythical Ukrainian Nazis and justifying Putin. They are enablers in this war”.
Another controversy was between the world-wide known writer Roberto Saviano (Gomorrah) and Anne Applebaum, a Polish American journalist that has written extensively about Marxism–Leninism and the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe, during the show Che Tempo che fa on Rai 3 on Sunday, February 28, in primetime.
Roberto Saviano, guest of the show was talking about the connection between Russian mafia and Ukrainian organizations for gas: “The negotiation that took place before the Maidan’s revolt for gas between Ukraine and Russia was done by the largest Russian mafia organization, governed by Semion Mogilevich, the Solncevskaja bratva, which means brigade of the sun,” he explained. Semion Mogilevich is the real Ukrainian leader of a Russian organization. The gas sold to Ukraine was gas brokered by the Russian mafia. Well, it was the Maidan revolt that blew the bank. When the Ukrainian people rose, the agreements with the company that sold gas to Ukraine (a company founded by Putin, among other things) were blown up”. The reaction of the Pulitzer’s journalist was immediate: “I have just been on an Italian TV show where someone speculated that this whole war is a battle between the Russian mafia and the Ukrainian mafia. I sense that we all see events through a national lens,” she wrote on Twitter. Later, after a few hours the reporter deleted the post, writing instead that it was a bad translation and wrote: “update to my (deleted) tweet about the Italian journalist: he was @robertosaviano, a genuine and brave expert on organized crime; his words were mistranslated to me. He was explaining that Crimea and Donbas were literally colonized by the Russian mafia, which is of course true”.
Despite all of these controversies, I would like to spend a word for the many Italian correspondents in Ukraine: men and women who every day risked their lives to tell the news, sometimes they were overwhelmed by the ego of their directors, but in most of the cases they were able to convey the horror of what they were seeing.
In the end it is always the public that makes its judgment. The narrative of the Italian correspondents moving from one city to another, under Putin’s bombs, was sincere and real, despite the arrogance of some self-centred Italian news directors.
When politics doesn’t enter the narrative, journalism triumphs and luckily, we have many examples of good journalism also in Italy!
Don Paolo Pezzi, Archbishop of the Catholic Church of Moscow, was expecting to face the period of Lent with some difficulties, given by the deaths from covid, instead he had to deal with one of the most terrific tragedies of the century: the war.
“On Wednesday, March 2, Day of Ashes for many Catholics around the world, the church was full of astonished people. After two years of pandemic, the cathedral was crowded” - remembered the high prelate – “but the most unexpected (or perhaps kept silent) event was in front of me. Another tragedy struck us. The war at the gates has undermined that timid, but desired, revival of relationships. Even among the most faithful I have noticed a sudden reappearance of distrust just because we belong to different peoples.
My sensation was as if Jesus Christ had come in vain, as if faith, baptism could not make us take that small yet infinite “jump” which is forgiveness, mercy. Like in the hit song of Italian singer Lucio Dalla, which has come back in recent days, a song from the time of the Balkan war whose lesson we too quickly forgot, “I believe it is love that will save us”. It is a very true intuition, so much so that according to Saint Paul everything will disappear except love (cf. 1 Cor 13,8). But in this life, seems forgotten”.
Those were the thoughts of the archbishop in Moscow and without any fears he ordered to ring the bells of the Church and to fast and pray as Pope Francis suggested to do around the world: a clear message of vicinity to the Ukrainian people. The prelate of course was not able to talk and to write openly.
In the same week, his native church in Italy (which by chance is in my city of Ravenna) started the cooperation and collaboration with the Orthodox Church of Faenza and Ravenna. Together, they started to organize humanitarian aid with groceries, blankets, food, clothes for babies and milk. Trucks driven by Ukrainians loaded with all the boxes and packages drove to the boarders in Poland. Here, in Italy the local Ukrainian community was organizing the first welcoming for several groups of moms and their kids. The Romagna Riviera famous for its beaches and hotels was ready to welcome the people. Women and men from every religion and ethnicity were packing, collecting, and driving, doing all their best to help. One voice in unison: We must help and support Ukraine! All the catholic parishes, churches and communities were referring to the Orthodox Church.
The archbishop in Moscow is putting his life in danger for supporting the Ukrainian and he is doing that just as he is following the words of Francis Pope, but his community in Italy is acting in connection with the Orthodox Church and this is unusual, because as we know, the Orthodox Church in Moscow is totally devoted to Putin.