BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. It wouldn't be a European summer without a strike. The French air traffic controllers, for example, are threatening to walk out, but a more unusual job action is set for June 10th in Italy where journalists are protesting the apparently forced resignation of the editor of Corriere della Sera after coverage in that paper was deemed too critical of media magnate and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Corriere's sin was to closely cover corruption cases involving Berlusconi and his cronies. Raffaele Fiengo, a cultural editor and the journalists' representative for the paper, says the assumption is that Corriere's industrialist owners bent to Berlusconi's will and forced editor Ferruccio De Bortoli out.
RAFFAELE FIENGO: Prime minister put his hands somehow on this case, and this is the common opinion -- even if no smoking gun was found, and that's why the changing of the editor in chief gave a, a strange idea and all the journalists meet together and stated a strike.
BOB GARFIELD:Now the editor, Ferruccio De Bortoli, is nobody's idea of a leftist. Corriere is regarded as a center-right paper. Was it surprising to see, of all people, De Bortoli having to fall on his sword over criticism of Berlusconi?
RAFFAELE FIENGO: No, but the real thing is that Corriere della Sera is traditionally independent. It's really more conservative than center-right. It's a paper that prints all the news and--give different opinions. But the paper normally gives all the news. For example, we had a criminal case that involved a minister of Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Berlusconi himself, and the paper covered the case regularly - with honor. But this gave some, you know, bad attitude of the government, and we had a lot of phone calls to the journalists who write on justice and somebody'd say what are you doing, and you will pay for this-- and this kind of pressure on the paper they did one year ago -- it's a whole year. And this is why the editor in chief I think was very tired. He gave up, I think. No?
BOB GARFIELD:So after a year of harassment and intimidation and anonymous telephone threats to the reporter covering the criminal case, was there a final straw do you believe that led to De Bortoli's resignation?
RAFFAELE FIENGO: You cannot say exactly because as I told you, we didn't find a smoking gun of this, and even the-- Mr. De Bortoli came and talked with the journalist, and he didn't say that somebody threw him out, but he said, for example, that the air in Italy is polluted for the conflict of interest of Mr. Berlusconi. So on one hand he resigned by himself. On another hand, he talked about what's happened in, in the media of this country.
BOB GARFIELD:There was a column in your paper about three weeks ago by Giovanni Sartori in which he compared Prime Minister Berlusconi to Mussolini, and I guess there's a lot of prime ministers who don't wish to be compared to fascist dictators. The presumption among some of the commentators is that that column directly led to the final pressure that forced De Bortoli out. Do you believe that's true?
RAFFAELE FIENGO: No, it can be but-- you know, all the left wing parties and even parts of the public opinion used to do this -- compare Mr. Berlusconi to Mussolini. You cannot say this exactly. You can only say what I saw on Time Magazine this week -- they talked about the canaries in the coal mine, in a cage in the coal mines -- and when the canary dies-- that means that the air of that country pollutes. And I think this is exact. We had an editor in chief who when we had the war of Iraq said no to the war. This is what happened. That's the, the only thing you can say. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BOB GARFIELD: So you think the metaphor is apt. Ferruccio De Bortoli is the canary in the coal mine.
RAFFAELE FIENGO: I think he's dead for that. Yes.
BOB GARFIELD: Well Raffaele, thank you very much!
RAFFAELE FIENGO: Ciao.
BOB GARFIELD:Raffaele Fiengo is the cultural editor and a representative of the journalists committee for Corriere della Sera. He joined me on the phone from his home in Milan. [MUSIC]