300,000 in Defence of Press Freedom!

Whilst anybody who has been following recent events in Italy might have expected this protest to be big, nothing could have prepared one for the sheer scale of the demonstration in defence of press freedom yesterday in Piazza del Popolo in Rome. The official start time was half past three but people had clearly begun gathering in the streets long before; when we got there a little later, the piazza was already full to capacity with more and more people, from the very young hoisted on shoulders of parents, to the elderly, who had braved the teeming masses to support the cause, arriving as the afternoon went on. It was as if, en masse, people had suddenly been shaken out of a protracted torpor, and at long last leapt into action. At first we found ourselves blocked at the entrance to the piazza, although from the vantage point of the steps of Santa Maria Del Popolo, could watch people arriving. All the participants, however illustrious, arrived through the main gate - the Porta del Popolo - and were applauded by the crowds as one person after another noticed them. Outspoken TV host Michele Santoro, whose show has been the centre of a recent media storm, was given a hero’s welcome, but the biggest cheers were reserved for the bravest of the brave. There was a sudden ripple of applause which grew into a crescendo of cheers and shouts of bravo!bravo! as Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorra, was seen pushing his way through the crowds surrounded by the bodyguards he sadly now needs, on his way to the stage.

Organised by the Federation of Italian journalists (FNSI) in defence of press freedom, this was surely the strongest protest ever against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s constant attempts to silence any criticism of his regime in the media. Predictably, the main news reports on both Rai 1 and Rai 2 last night spoke disparagingly of the event and underestimated attendance as being in the “tens of thousands” Pictures, in this case, speak louder than words...