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The Harvard International Journal of Press Politics 5.2 (2000) 122-125

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Il Manifesto:
Italy's Left-Wing Media

Guido Moltedo

When its first issue was published, on April 28, 1971, the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto was very vulnerable. Many predicted a life of less than six months. And even though it is going through some hard times today--with its survival at risk--we can reasonably hope it will make it into the new millennium.

It would be a deserving outcome for a small national daily, entirely owned and managed by those who produce it: journalists, technicians, and administrators united in a publishing cooperative, all on the same salary--from the telephone operator to the editor in chief.

Il Manifesto is a unique case in the Italian media landscape and unusual in Europe. Together with Die Tageszeitung in Berlin, it is one of the few political dailies not affiliated with a party or an interest group. At the beginning of the 1970s, several dailies were founded in Europe in the wake of the 1968 student movement. In addition to Il Manifesto and Die Tageszeitung, Lotta Continua (Permanent Fight) and Quotidiano dei lavoratori (The Workers' Daily) in Italy, and Liberation in France, were part of this trend. These were papers of the extreme left and very militant. Only a few survived their first political season. Liberation abandoned its extreme left politics and has since become an important daily of the French left. Il Manifesto and Taz, as Die Tageszeitung is affectionately nicknamed, still exist. These dailies deal more with politics than with news in the strict sense. Although newspapers, their function goes beyond providing news and opinions. Their ambition is to influence the national political life and the strategic choices made by left-wing parties. They often achieve important results. And for many of their most faithful readers, they are a symbol of cultural and political identity. At the same time, the quantity and quality of information they channel make them respected, informative, and opinionated beyond even their immediate circle of readers and among even the most distant political and cultural groups.

This description, however, applies more to Il Manifesto than to Taz. Die Tageszeitung is more of a niche newspaper and less influential than Il Manifesto, partly because of the editorial situation and the political scenery in Germany. There, the use of daily newspapers is high, while here in Italy, with five million copies sold daily--the same number since the 1950s--readership is the smallest in most of Europe. Moreover, the quality of elite dailies in Germany is generally higher than in Italy. Italian papers are aimed at both the cultivated and the general public. They also tend to mix information with opinion and do little [End Page 122] investigative reporting with regard to the political and economic authorities. Also, in Italy the number of newspapers that serve as party mouthpieces is high. Quarrels, and sometimes clashes, between the spheres of politics and information are very common, even pathological.

As for the strictly political scenario, the Italian picture is historically very lively and articulated, especially on the left, with strong political participation. Il Manifesto, therefore, lives in a particular environment where it is not surprising for a newspaper to become a political actor. Moreover, with such background, although it is perceived as a "communist" or extreme left newspaper, it has the advantage of being considered authoritative. In Germany, as in most western countries, a newspaper is solely a paper in competition with others: Die Tageszeitung occupies a certain segment of the editorial market in the extreme left, and it has scarce political weight beyond its habitual sphere of readers. On the contrary, an issue reported in Il Manifesto--not just strictly political but also cultural or ethical--is often echoed by other newspapers or TV stations. Moreover, a portion of the readership in Italy buys more than one newspaper. Hence, the majority of Il Manifesto's readers read it as a "second newspaper." These are educated readers (47.3 percent have a college degree), they are well...