Italy launches inquiry into Kremlin disinformation

An Italian parliamentary committee has begun an investigation into the spread of disinformation, reportedly amid suspicions that some Russian commentators hosted on television networks could be on Vladimir Putin’s payroll.

The probe by Copasir, a parliamentary committee for the security of Italy, was triggered after an outcry over a recent interview with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Rete 4, a channel operated by the privately owned Mediaset.

Enrico Borghi, a member of Copasir and politician with the centre-left Democratic party, confirmed an investigation was under way but would neither confirm nor deny a report in la Repubblica on Monday that at least three unnamed Russian guests on Italian TV were on the Kremlin’s payroll.

Lavrov’s interview on 1 May, prompted a diplomatic row with Israel after the minister claimed that Adolf Hitler “had Jewish blood”. The screening coincided with the appearance of the prominent pro-Kremlin journalist, Vladimir Solovyev, on the rival channel, La7.

“The fact they were both interviewed on the same night, by private networks, was really quite striking,” Borghi said. “But this investigation is not about censorship or limiting press freedom, but this so-called hybrid war of disinformation, interference, the production of fake news and influence, which are objective themes of Russian activities against Nato, and, in particular, against Italy. These elements have increased, unfortunately, in connection with the real war.”

The committee will first hear Carlo Fuortes, CEO of the state-owned broadcaster, Rai, on 12 May, followed by Giacomo Lasorella, president of the media watchdog, Agcom, on 17 May.

“Our task is to supervise the information service and security of the country. It’s in the context of this activity that we carry out our work,” added Borghi.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Rai and other TV channels have regularly hosted Russian journalists to debate the war, sparking divisions between those who condemn the networks for giving space to “propagandists” and those who argue that it is right to air the opinions of those on both sides of the conflict.

The matter came to a head when Lavrov was interviewed on Rete 4’s current affairs programme, Zona bianca, during which he dismissed the massacre in Bucha as fake news and accused the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who is Jewish, of being a Nazi.

It was the first interview Lavrov had given to a European TV network since the beginning of the war.

“It seems we are the only country whose talkshows host Russian figures every day,” said Riccardo Magi, a politician with the small leftwing party, Più Europa, said. “Probably, in their evaluation [Italy] has a major weakness, both from the point of view of the authoritativeness of independent information and public opinion; already this type of propaganda had been well infiltrated.”

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