Kremlin Playbook Spotlight: The Intersection of Italian State Media and Russian Malign Influence
by Heather A. Conely and Holly Geffs
October 17, 2018
Contributor: Heather A. ConleyItaly’s national public broadcaster, Rai, recently named two new members on its board, Giampaolo Rossi and Marcello Foa. Both board members are well-known for their pro-Russia positions although they came to the board via separate paths: Rossi was voted by parliament to the Rai board and Foa was designated by the new Italian coalition government as president of the Rai board.
Giampaolo Rossi is a journalist who was previously the CEO of the Rai group’s online content company, RaiNet (2004-2012). Rossi frequently voices strong Eurosceptic, anti-immigration, and socially conservative viewpoints, and supports the Kremlin’s positions with his blog “L’Anarca,” in collaboration with the Berlusconi family newspaper Il Giornale. In April 2018, he published a post denying proof of the Skripal assassination attempt on British soil. He also collaborates with the Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik. In one Sputnik interview, he spoke about “the long standing western hysteria towards Russia, coming from 5-6 years of manipulation.” In another, he stated that it's time for Europe to stand up and show support for Russia in its war against terrorism, "no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Marcello Foa is a journalist who also has had a long-term affiliation with Berlusconi’s Il Giornale. Foa is a vocal supporter of Italian Interior Minister and leader of the far-right political party Lega, Matteo Salvini, and has recently befriended President Trump’s former strategic advisor, Steve Bannon. Foa is considered the Italian voice of another state propaganda outlet, RT (Russia Today), and is a recognized proponent of far-right views as well as a vocal critic of immigration and the EU. On RT, he has frequently amplified the new Italian government’s enthusiasm for Russia. In his tweets, he has also cast doubts on the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.
Foa was initially blocked by the parliament after losing the support of Silvio Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia. But on September 21st, the board re-nominated Foa. His appointment was approved after Forza Italia dropped its opposition to his nomination following reports that Berlusconi met with Minister Salvini, where he allegedly agreed to the Foa appointment in exchange for assurances that would protect his own media empire, Mediaset. On September 26, the parliamentary committee that oversees Rai voted in favor of appointing Foa as the new president.
The National Federation of the Italian Press and the Italian journalist trade union Usigrai have spoken out in opposition to Foa, calling his appointment process unlawful. Foa is expected to carry out “extensive reorganization” of Rai directors and staff. He has stated his intention to reverse a “de facto veto” at Rai of Eurosceptic politicians and government ministers. Foa’s son Leonardo Foa now works with Salvini’s social media manager Luca Morisi.
Dating back to former Prime Minister Berlusconi’s (and his extensive media empire) close relationship with President Putin, both Foa and Rossi have a long history of expressing pro-Russia views and supporting disinformation campaigns. This continues a long history of often-blurred lines between Italian policy views and the official promotion of pro-Kremlin messaging through Italian media sources.