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Italian lawmakers reject government nomination of anti-trans journalist to lead public broadcaster

Sofia Lotto Persio August 1, 2018

ROME, ITALY - JUNE 01: (L-R) Labor and Industry and Deputy PM Luigi Di Maio and Interior Minister and Deputy PM Matteo Salvini arrives to attend the first session of the council of ministers at Palazzo Chigi on June 1, 2018 in Rome, Italy. Law professor Giuseppe Conte has been chosen as Italy's new prime minister by the leader of the 5-Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, and League leader Matteo Salvini. (Photo by Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images)

Italian ruling parties Five-Star Movement and Northern League have been defeated in a vote to nominate a new director to the Italian public broadcaster Rai on Wednesday.

Under Italian laws, the head of the state broadcaster is nominated by the government pending approval of the broadcaster’s board of directors and of a parliamentary commission dedicated to overseeing the taxpayer-funded channels.

Party leaders and deputy prime ministers Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini picked journalist Marcello Foa for the high-profile role.

The headquarters of RAI in Viale Mazzini seen on March 27, 2018 in Rome, Italy (Elisabetta Villa/Getty)

The nomination was immediately seen as controversial due to Foa’s pro-Russia and anti-LGBT+ views. In a 2016 opinion piece titled “The latest aberration: the pregnant man,” published in the Switzerland-based Corriere del Ticino, Foa took aim at a trans man who had become pregnant.

The news was a bit old, as Thomas Birtie’s first pregnancy was reported already in 2008 when he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey’s show, but for the journalist it represented a classic example of “the strange world in which we live in, [which] celebrated the right, of straight and gay people, to have children even when this is not possible.”

In the piece, Foa also claimed homosexuality is now socially-accepted and marvelled that LGBT people still seek to become parents. “[Tension] keeps running high due to radical minorities that keep on behaving as if gay people were still persecuted, advancing requests that it isn’t wrong to define abhorrent because they keep denying an undeniable reality, which is that procreation takes place among a man and a woman,” he wrote.

Trans man Thomas Beatie (R), pictured with his wife and daughter, was described as an “aberration” in an opinion-piece written by Foa (Photo by Patrik Stollarz/Getty Images)

Foa was also criticised for his penchant for promoting conspiracy theories, as the Italian newspaper Il Foglio noted in a piece compiling a list of the fake news the journalist shared on his social media channels and on his blog in the newspaper Il Giornale, owned by the family of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Yet Berlusconi’s party Forza Italia joined other opposition parties to abstain from the vote in the 40-member parliamentary commission, preventing it from reaching the two-thirds majority required to approve Foa’s nomination.

Northern League party leader Salvini nonetheless wants Foa to be involved in the running of the broadcaster, if only in an advisory role, the newspaper Corriere della Sera reported.

As for Foa’s replacement, the options aren’t that different from the original choice. According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, a leading candidate for the position is Giampaolo Rossi, who’s already on Rai’s board and, like Foa, regularly writes a blog for Il Giornale—in a piece published in 2016, Rossi praised the “brave lesbian thinker” Camille Paglia for her homophobic and transphobic views.

More: Europe, Italy, Italy, Luigi di Maio, Marcello Foa, Matteo Salvini, RAI

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