Nessma TV, or the migration of conflict of interests
Marie Bossaert - 11/01/2010
On the last 18th August, in Tunis, Silvio Berlusconi was invited to the program Ness Nessma on Nessma TV for the inauguration of this new satellite channel, which he partly owns (1). Is it Silvio Berlusconi…the Italian Prime-minister or the important businessman at the head of the media empire entitled Mediaset? Whatever, the latter and the persons presented on the set did not make the effort to make such subtle distinctions and pass serenely from the “historic discourse” on colonisation pronounced by the President of the Council in Tripoli a year beforehand to the success and good advices “of the private television emperor”. One of the trick shared by S. Berlusconi was to “choose well” the presenters and to show “beautiful girls” on screen. At least, with regards to these 2 elements, Nessma TV seems to follow the example: the animators have perfectly played their role in a concert of sickening praises.
At the end of the program, the bimbo presenter was most probably not the only one who “couldn’t help herself” from finding Berlusconi “incredible”. How could someone think otherwise of a fierce opponent to the horrors of colonisation and of a man who wildly wished “to augment the possibility [for migrants] of having a legal situation in Italy and in other European countries”? How can one not admire the lucidity of he who, recognizes the long past of Italian emigration, he who assigns the “duty” to consider those “who want to come to Italy with a completely open heart”, to give them “the possibility to work, a house, a school”, and to ensure their access to health services by “opening all hospitals”? May all immigrants offended by Macaroni’s decree, signed 3 weeks beforehand (2) be reassured, Berlusconi said it: “this is the policy of my government.”
600kms away from the Lega Nord, his ally in government, Mr. Berlusconi becomes altruist. Unless it’s all about conquering the audience of 80 million people for Nessma TV in the Mediterranean! For this purpose, the Cavaliere has an important ally: Tarek Ben Ammar, chief executive officer of a powerful cinema production company, Quinta Communications. Together, they own 50% of the channel since 2008. The other half belongs to the Karoui brothers who created it in 2007. The two men are used to working together: they have been associates and friends for the past 25 years. Even if he’s very close to the government in power – he’s the nephew of H. Bourgiba -, Ben Amar makes it a point to only stick to his role as a businessman. On the other hand, Mr. Beslusconi confuses (once again) private affairs and political functions. This is why his attitude is eminently contradictory when it comes to immigration.
And it’s not the Italian press who would have reacted! Apart from two blogs like the one of D. Della Ratta on media in the Middle East and the one of Daniele Sensi that diffused the interview, the main Italian newspapers remain silent and mute on the subject. John Hooper, journalist at the Guardian , updates the issue during Berlusconi’s trip to Libya on the occasion of the italo-libyan treaty’s anniversary – and of course not for the celebration of Khadafi’s 40 years of power. In his article entitled «The Gaddafi-Berlusconi connection», he points out that the relationship between the two statesmen is not exclusively political. He backs up his argument by referring to a news flash published by the Italian press agency “Radiocor”. He reminds that in June, Lafitrade, a Libyan enterprise, took over 10% in Quinta Communications . Lafitrade happens to be a subsidiary company of Lafico, which belongs to the Khadafi family.
And who is behind Quinta Communications ? Berlusconi, whose investment company Fininvest , based in Luxembourg, owns 22% of Quinta. At the end of his article, Hooper is surprised by the deafening silence of Italian media with regards to this evident conflict of interests. Reactions start flowing: the Italian press seizes the affair and denials invade the scene. In an interview given to La Repubblica , Ben Ammar hastens to deny any collaboration between Quinta and Nessma. If at no single moment, he puts into question Berlusconi and Khadafi’s association (!), on the other hand, he explains that there exist 2 Quinta, a French one and an Italian one. It’s probably via the latter and through a sub-holding (Prima TV) that he owns 25% of Nessma’s capital.
This small affair gives a clear picture of the situation of press in Italy: on the one hand, reigns the general lifelessness of big media and on the other hand, private interests hinder media independency and transparency. It brings another perspective on bilateral relations between Italy and Libya who have experienced a historical turning point. On the 30th of August, the two countries have indeed signed a friendship treaty destined to close the colonisation chapter. S. Berlusconi himself, in the name of Italy, presented official apologies and committed himself to pay 5 billion dollars in form of investments in compensation. It is therefore useful to know that Libya represents an important market for one of the signers and that the artisans of this reconciliation are associated in business. Or that the negotiations have resulted in this treaty exclusively led by Berlusconi (helped by Ben Ammar…), who then had short-circuited the official diplomatic channels.
In a wider perspective, the relations between Italy and Libya are at the centre of Mediterranean problems especially the one of irregular immigration. Thus, the treaty of reconciliation has opened the way to an intensification of the cooperation in this area: in February, the two countries have signed an agreement to establish joint military patrols in the Mediterranean; in May, for the 1st time, Libya have accepted the return of 500 migrants intercepted at sea by the Italian navy.
In this perspective and as far as Nessma TV intends to conquer the “moderate Arab World”, Italy would probably have to face numerous conflicts of interest whose repercussions risk to be felt throughout the Mediterranean. It will be then no good for S. Berlusconi and T. Ben Ammar to launch this channel as an “opportunity” for the Muslim world, as a privileged tool for intercultural dialogue and democratisation. One would hope better than a Star Academy to deepen dialogue between the West and the Muslim world. Even if M. Berlusconi tells us that Television is “dynamism and the future” and that it will bring “freedom and democracy”, the total absence of transparency and the confusion of roles at the heart of this channel’s launch, can only be worrying and incite us to be vigilant.
At the end of the interview, the presenter wished Berlusconi to succeed in making out of Nessma, what he has already done in Italy with media and television. Let’s not hope so!
(2) The Maroni decree intends to struggle against illegal immigration. The Lega Nord’s rhetoric often plays with the distinction between “good” and “bad” immigration. This is what Berlusconi does during Ness Nessma . However the steps taken by the government tend to make legal immigration more and more complicated.
Translated by Elizabeth Grech