Last October, the Harvey Weinstein scandal shook the US media industry into a moment of reckoning. Outlets that had previously shied away from, and in some cases covered up, abuses by the Hollywood producer began harassment investigations that saw a host of household media names pushed from their pedestals.
Italy, home to two of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, also felt the shockwaves. But Italians hoping for a similar impact on their fourth estate, where victim-blaming and objectification are notoriously common – were to be disappointed.
Instead, two features marked the fallout: the near absence of names named, and the ferocious reaction faced not by the accused, but the accusers.
Italy, it would seem, had missed its “Weinstein moment”.
The problem is, it’s difficult to expose such cases, especially when they happen in the industry that is supposed to be doing the exposing! And that’s an industry whose leaders tend to be, on the whole, men.
Six months on from the scandal, The Listening Post went to Rome and Milan to ask journalists and media experts why the scandal played out so differently in Italy, and to discuss the problematic representation of women in Italy’s media more generally.
One of Weinstein’s Italian accusers is the actress Asia Argento, whose testimony of sexual assault met a media response that – with some exceptions – ranged from scepticism to open abuse.
“First they go along with it, then they whine and pretend to repent”, goaded a headline in the conservative newspaper, Libero. Libero’s editor, Vittorio Feltri, was one of several prominent journalists to label Argento’s story as one of “prostitution” – comments that his deputy, Pietro Senaldi, happily defended in his interview with us.
“You have to know the man,” Senaldi insisted. “It is well known that his journalistic career and his reputation are based on how direct and how blunt he his …”
For Elisa Giomi, a sociologist specialising in gender and media at Rome Three University, it was a feature she told us, that is typical of media coverage of such cases in Italy: “a tendency to split the victims of sexual harassment into two categories: the innocent ones and the women who asked for it.”
We asked all our contributors why so few cases of harassment, including in the media industry itself, had been uncovered by Italian journalists. Pietro Senaldi’s explanation was simple: “What I think is that in Italy, this phenomenon has not exploded because it is less dramatic than it is in the States. Definitely less dramatic.”
It’s a notion each of our female interviewees strongly disputed, pointing out that such cases are not hard to find – if you are looking for them.
“Just because there have been no denunciations to date doesn’t mean it isn’t happening in the media as well,” said Claudia Torrisi, a contributor to VICE Italy.
“The problem is, it’s difficult to expose such cases, especially when they happen in the industry that is supposed to be doing the exposing! And that’s an industry whose leaders tend to be, on the whole, men.”
The predominance of men in the upper echelons of Italian media is something many believe bears a significant responsibility for another persistent feature of Italian media: the objectification of women on Italian television.
Since the advent of Silvio Berlusconi‘s MediaSet network in the 1980s, scantily-clad showgirls – known as “veline” – have become an almost standard fixture across the TV landscape.
For Gianmaria Tammaro, a journalist and TV critic for a number of publications including La Stampa newspaper, it’s a concept that belongs in another era. “It was a particular idea of what the average Italian viewer wants – a viewer that paradoxically is always assumed to be male.”
Pietro Senaldi apart, on the whole, the people we spoke with viewed the Weinstein scandal as a missed opportunity for Italy’s media to re-examine how it treats and portrays women.
However, they also felt the industry was moving, slowly, in the right direction. It’s a trend they saw as being largely driven from below – by a new generation of readers and viewers increasingly unwilling to tolerate the ways of old.
Elisa Giomi, professor of sociology, Universita Roma Tre
Pietro Senaldi, director, Libero newspaper
Gianmaria Tammaro, columnist, La Stampa newspaper
Solen De Luca, presenter, TV2000
Source: Al Jazeera