What Europe is this? While Clubhouse rules, Euronews leaves Italy stranded

On 9 February this year, Ansa sent out an unequivocal press release: “Euronews, leading channel for information in Europe with headquarters in Lyon, has stopped work due to a strike of journalists and technicians after months of negotiations“. The CEO Michael Peters decided to cut down on staff and facilities to reduce costs, and the […]

On 9 February this year, Ansa sent out an unequivocal press release:Euronews, leading channel for information in Europe with headquarters in Lyon, has stopped work due to a strike of journalists and technicians after months of negotiations“. The CEO Michael Peters decided to cut down on staff and facilities to reduce costs, and the only channel to be “sacrificed” will be the Italian one, which is expected to be shut down in October 2021, leaving only the website; all other newsrooms will suffer minimal cuts. This essentially means sparing Spain, Germany, France, Portugal, Russia and Great Britain, even though the situation of the latter is not optimal either.

Euronews is the most widely followed information channel in Europe: 400 journalists and reporters of more than 30 nationalities, available 24/7 in 12 languages (English, French, Arabic, Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Turkish, Persian, Greek and Hungarian). Many have called it the only truly independent multimedia hub, with more than 400 million users in 155 countries worldwide: it broadcasts on the internet, via mobile phone, social network, radio, YouTube, Google Glass, Flipboard, as well as through the main airline companies, on cruise ships and in major international hotel chains. As for the current company structure, the majority share – i.e. 88% – is owned by Naguib Sawiris (an Egyptian businessman and politician, international telephone industry tycoom: in 2005 he was also President of Wind Italia); the rest is in the hands of small investors, including several European TV public television companies.

It seemed worth clarifying where and how Euronews works to show how detrimental its closure would be for Italy.

There can be no Europe without independent journalism

Two elements here seem particularly disturbing to me: one is that Euronews was created thanks to Italy – it was founded in 1993 by “Mamma Rai” (the Italian national broadcasting corporation), which currently owns a measly 2.7% share according to the June 2020 six-monthly statement – but its closure is not mentioned in our mainstream media, which over the past few days have filled tons of pages, web sites and TV chat shows with discussions about Mario Draghi being expected to bring Italy back to the forefront in Europe. Really? It is  worrying to see no concern shown at the prospect of the Italian section of Euronews being the only one to disappear from the channel after 28 years. Euronews was created by Massimo Fichera, former vice-director general of Rai and vice-president of Eurovision: its purpose was to give an independent voice, far from the centre of power, to information in the old continent, able to compete with the likes of CNN. For the moment the only dissident has come from the website of FNSI (Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana, the italian journalists’ trade union): “Weakening Euronews is a senseless choice with far-reaching implications. Rai needs to act. With Usigrai we will put pressure on its top management to make sure the majority shareholders get to work on a solution to protect staff”. It is also worth mentioning that the Chair of the Supervisory Board at Euronews is Paolo Garimberti.

The second aspect that worries me is the very low consideration for journalism being shown by top management in large holdings, which should be aware of its relevance in this day and age. 

SenzaFiltro calls, Lyon answers

Thanks to a colleague from Rome I immediately made contact via a direct French mobile phone number with an Italian editor at Euronews, who answered this morning, asking to remain anonymous.

“The network’s financial statements have been in the red for a long time; we are talking about a 20 million Euro deficit, and for years we have been calling for a functional development and investment plan for an important TV channel like Euronews. We were confident they would allocate solidarity funding to resolve this difficult situation, or possibly a furlough turnover, we definitely could not imaging they would suggest to fire people. We discovered this out of the blue: on 17 November 2020 there were contacts with the CEO Michael Peters, followed by meetings between him and our European team. Euronews has done extraordinary work, introducing the concept of soft power also in countries such as Turkey and Iran”.

My second question to the interviewee was “why sacrifice Italy?” 

“We cannot understand this either, also because Euronews produces general financial statements which include all countries in the Group, therefore there are no disaggregated data pointing to Italy’s responsibility being greater or more serious than that of others”.

As a final note, he added: “Do you know what the CEO of Euronews told us? That the Italian channel costs him one and a half million euro every year, and if we journalists can put together sufficiently substantial funding in Italy it might be possible to save it”. 

Is there more interest in ClubHouse than in Euronews?

What strikes me, now that the political crisis has shifted the attention tot he political role of Italy – and that the prime minister elect Mario Draghi is about to submit his list of ministers to the President of the Republic – is that the news of Euronews being shut down is being neglected by news media in our country, which seem so keen on pointing out that thousands of Italians are currently beginning to lock themselves in the chatrooms of ClubHouse, the social network newly inaugurated here. Admission is by invitation only, but the procedure is so ludicrously simple that it reminds me of the fake entry lists for discos in the Nineties. For the moment the App can be downloaded exclusively on iPhone or iPad: it is a totally audio-based platform: no photos, no posting, all naked ear and group theme conversations. It should not be mistaken for a podcast or the radio: there is no editorial work, no coordinated schedule, zero editing work, no post-production, no filters at all. China has already banned it because its users discussed issues of which the authorities clearly did not approve; as for Italy, the supervisory Authority for Privacy has already sent a strict request for clarification to Alpha Exploration, the company running the social network. In a nutshell, the Authority disputes three elements: the social media fails to provide a privacy policy according to GDPR; there is no legal base to specify how some data are processed (just one example: profiling of user preferences or temporary storage of records); last but not least there is no European representative pursuant to Art.27 of GDPR. TikTok has appointed a representative in Ireland, ClubHouse has done nothing. What does this shortcoming mean? It makes it impossible to start any action against this App: any European Authority may act, without anyone taking on a leading role.

The word Europe resounds.

Social networks are stealing from information a pivotal role: the attention of citizens and institutions, as well as of the media themselves… and information looks on passively. Social media are currently running a huge business, to a level that journalism – at least in Italy – can only dream of. I am reminded every day that social networks are deluding people into the idea that spending hours with them is the same as getting information, knowledge, finding out what happens. ClubHouse gives the same illusion of exclusivity, with everyone talking about everything, while a chilling silence descends on Italian journalism in Europe. 

Translation by Hallo International.


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