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ENI’s preventive censorship, the case of the “Petrolio” broadcast

Abstract: The investigative program hosted by Duilio Gianmaria on Rai 3, which in the first episode of its 13th edition, aired last Feb. 27, focused on the effects of fossil fuels on the ongoing climate crisis. The Italian company not only refused to participate in the broadcast, but forced the authors to read a company statement during the episode, threatening that it would not accept “unacceptable accusations.”

By Anna Irma Battino (TRC)

We often hear about censorship, freedom of information and the independence of journalism. These are concepts usually associated with great struggles for values, but which increasingly escape common perception as entangled in the perverse mechanisms by which the very nature of information and communication is abruptly and constantly reshaped.

However, there are some cases in which the idea of censorship emerges sharply, especially when it comes to “public service.” We all remember the shameful pro-Israel statements of RAI CEO Roberto Sergio after the Sanremo Festival, so disgraceful that the general indignation resulted in quite a few protests under RAI headquarters throughout Italy.

But what happens when censorship is so insidious to become preventive? We refer to the case of ENI and the episode of Petrolio, the investigative program hosted by Duilio Gianmaria on the television channel RAI 3 which, in the first episode of the thirteenth edition aired last February 27th, focused on the impacts of fossil fuels in the context of the ongoing climate crisis. The investigation at the heart of the episode revealed that big oil internationals have been aware of the adverse climate effects of their activities since the 1960s, but have consistently managed to manipulate scientific research data and hide them from the public. Much of the broadcast focused on the giant Exxon, but among the multinationals pulled in was supposed to include the “domestic” ENI. The Italian company not only refused to participate in the broadcast, but forced the authors to read an official statement from the company during the episode, threatening that it would not accept “unacceptable accusations” that, according to them, “will be demolished in other venues.”

A tweet by the journalist Ferdinando Cotugno details the background to all this. In short, the journalist had been contacted by the authors of Petrolio to serve as an adversary to ENI itself. In the days following the invitation, first he was told that representatives of the Italian multinational company were absent and, four days before the episode, he was notified with a message that his participation was cancelled, due to “authorial choice.” Moral of the story: ENI cannot be talked about during the broadcast, a real preventive censorship.

This is not the first time ENI has targeted so-called “freedom of press.” It happened in December 2021, when the program Report decided to interview ReCommon director Antonio Tricarico as part of the investigation into the Nigerian oil field Opl 245 and the accusation against ENI of international corruption of over $1 billion. Prior to the episode, ReCommon received for information from lawyer Stefano Speroni, director of Eni’s legal department, an email addressed to RAI’s Report program and its host Sigfrido Ranucci in which it was quoted verbatim that “ReCommon and Antonio Tricarico cannot be interlocutors of the RAI public service, and in particular of the Report program” (read more here).

The two cases have much in common, not least because in the Petrolio episode the intention was to bring out how ENI was aware of the effects of fossil fuels on climate decades ago, something that ReCommon itself revealed in a research conducted together with Greenpeace, published last September. The research, explicitly titled “ENI Knew,” shows how since the first half of the 1970s the “Six-legged Dog” has been a member of IPIECA, an organization founded by several international oil companies that, according to recent studies, from the 1980s onward enabled U.S. oil giant Exxon to coordinate “an international campaign to challenge climate science and undermine international climate policies.” Felice Manarco, coordinator of the research, explained the findings in this way: “Our investigation shows how ENI can be added to the long list of fossil fuel companies that, as has emerged from numerous international investigations conducted in recent years, were aware at least since the early 1970s of the destabilizing effect of coal, gas and oil exploitation on global climate balances, due to greenhouse gas emissions.”

In the face of all this, the Italian oil company has continued its strategy of concealing the truth, not only by not participating in the Petrolio broadcast, but even threatening the authors of the research in a statement. As ReCommon writes in its newsletter, “During the program, we got into a Kafkaesque situation when Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes, on a live stream, was asked how much pressure oil majors put on the press to shut her up about ‘inconvenient’ topics. The celebrated historian of science humbly pointed out that this was what had just happened with the ENI statement.”   

So we are between the ridiculous and the absurd, but above all we are once again dealing with the arrogance of the fossil multinationals even in the face of factual evidence. An arrogance that is often determined by the impunity that fossil capitalism continues to have all over the world, abetted by the complete (and intentional) lack of accountability on the part of institutions, as amply demonstrated in the last Cop held in Dubai.

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