Editor resigns over criticism - Italy

31st May 2003

The editor of Italy's biggest-selling daily newspaper resigned yesterday, amid suggestions that he had upset premier Silvio Berlusconi.

The owners of the paper, RCS Media Group, gave no explanation for the departure from the Milan-based centre right Corriere della Sera of Ferruccio de Bortoli after six years in the editor's chair.

He is to be replaced by columnist Stefano Folli.

The resignation of de Bortoli had been expected for some days and has raised questions on the political left about the freedom of the press. Staff on the paper also expressed worries.

A monthly magazine claimed that Berlusconi nursed a grudge against de Bortoli, among other things for opposing the US-led war in Iraq, which the centre-right government of Berlusconi backed.

De Bortoli was respected for being independent. The newspaper reported yesterday that he had sent a letter of "irrevocable" resignation to shareholders controlling RCS Media Group.

Competing newspaper La Repubblica noted that under de Bortoli, Corriere della Sera had opposed the war in Iraq.

The right-wing government headed by Berlusconi had supported military action.

Folli, aged 54, has been a commentator on the newspaper for 12 years. His articles are respected by people on both the right and left of Italian politics.

The newspaper, which has a tradition of being on the centre-right of Italian politics, is the leading newspaper in Italy with daily circulation of 715 600.

At the beginning of May a specialist publication on the media, Prima, had forecast that "something would happen", arguing that Berlusconi "has some reason to be angry with the newspaper".

It said that the Prime Minister was ill disposed towards de Bortoli because in 1994 he had written a front-page story revealing that Berlusconi had been charged as he chaired a summit of G8 countries in Naples.

Prime said that relations between the newspaper and the government had reached the stage of a final reckoning.

Debate in Italy on freedom of the press is in the forefront in part because Berlusconi owns the main private broadcasting group Mediaset which competes with the state broadcaster RAI over which the government can also exercise some influence. – Sapa-AFP.