Marked “vulnerable.” The latest report by Freedom House, a US-based NGO, found that Italy is exposed to media influence from the People’s Republic of China. Beijing’s efforts to influence Italian media are rated “high” (43/85), slightly lower than national resilience (45/85).
2019: Silk Ode. “The Chinese government’s media influence efforts intensified during the coverage period of 2019-21, especially in the context of the COVID- 19 pandemic,” reads the report. “Media cooperation agreements and content sharing proliferated after Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy in March 2019,” which marked Italy’s signing of a Belt and Road Initiative memorandum of understanding.
- Italian perceptions of China were “predominantly negative” in the mid-2000s, but improved in the run-up to the BRI MoU in 2019. It peaked in the early 2020s, thanks to Beijing’s pandemic aid and pro-Beijing narratives in the media, the report reveals.
2021: perception decline. In 2021, opinions were more cautious. Most respondents were still in favour of greater cooperation in areas of common interest, but a higher percentage saw China as a threat than in 2018, preferring to ally with the US and Europe, noted the report.
- The report highlighted several existing pressure points in Italy the Beijing regime could use – propaganda on Covid-19, relations with the Italian media, the online “intimidation” of diplomats and the influence over the local Chinese diaspora (which amounts to roughly 300,000 people).
- Nevertheless, according to the report, research on China and its disinformation and interference tactics increased – and the government took care to raise barriers around strategic sectors.
The Draghi shift. That perception change apparently resulted from Mario Draghi’s Euro-Atlantic course reset, which began when he was appointed Prime Minister in February 2021.
- Under PM Draghi, Italy “understands very well how the People’s Republic of China operates in the world,” said Wendy Sherman, US Deputy Secretary of State.
- Over the past years, most of the Italian news outlets walked away from the deals they had with Chinese propaganda outlets.