Published in Italian on Italia Oggi
By Enza Ferreri
If we have followed the debate about the murder of Meredith Kercher and the prime suspect Amanda Knox on both sides of the Atlantic, we may have observed a strange phenomenon. As most people know, the former, the victim, was English, while the latter, now acquitted, is American. The two girls were students living in Perugia, Italy, where the murder was committed and the case tried.
Analysing the comments, we find this. For Americans, the Italian justice is to be condemned as too severe, to be compared even to the Inquisition. For the British, instead, the Italian justice is to be condemned because, on the contrary, too permissive, unable to do justice and punish the guilty. Such accusations shed light on prejudices that reign in the media, and in particular the anti-Italian prejudice, more than they say about the crime itself and the Italian justice.
A thorough study of high academic level published on the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, "The Amanda Knox Case: the Representation of Italy in American Media Coverage" by Sarah Annunziato, a university scholar who researches, among other things, how Italy is represented in the US media, analyses as many as 409 between articles and television programs on the case, from the most widely-read print media and the most popular TV channels in America, in a period of over two years. The researcher concludes that 251 of these journalistic pieces are neutral, 158 unfavorable to Italy, and zero favourable to Italy.
The details of the case are often presented unilaterally. Declarations of "Fellini forensics" and "the whole of Italy should be ashamed," along with unsubstantiated allegations of police's physical and psychological violence against Amanda Knox, abound. There is, at times, some anti-Catholic hint in certain statements that Amanda was put on trial for her lifestyle at odds with the prevailing Italian culture.
Sarah Annunziato discovers traces of so-called "litigation journalism", in which one of the parties seeks to influence the outcome of the trial through the media. A sign of its presence is the tendency of some US journalists to repeat the same criticisms of Italy and its justice system already expressed by Knox open supporters.
The last sentence of the study says it all in its prescience: "If the Amanda Knox
conviction is later reversed, what will American journalists say about their use of anti-Italian stereotypes?"
Across the Pond, in Britain, Italy is described as retrograde, misogynist and medieval. "Amanda Knox was acquitted because she is rich and American, says Patrick Lumumba," headlines The Guardian.
The British online publication Spiked, in an article titled "Opportunity Knox for Italy-bashing", summarises: "Italy, its culture and its legal system, has been as determinedly calumnied and demonised by American and British observers." A Guardian commentator called the Knox trial an indictment of Italy’s whole judicial system, such as to raise serious doubts about Italy’s ability to mete out criminal justice. A considerable jump from a particular case to the generality.
Among the comments in UK Internet forums one can read: "Italy's legal system is as flawed and as complicated as its parliamentary system"; "Just consider Berlusconi: there you have Italy's system fully exposed"; "The court did release her [Knox]. Why, when she was still the prime suspect? I can't imagine that happening in the UK"; "Just seems like they keep rolling the dice until they get an outcome they like. Scary"; "It [the trial] looks like a purely political event driven by emotion rather than logic"; "[Italy's] legal system has often been criticised for being influenced by the Mafia and politics, well, say no more. Great food, excellent wines, fascinating history, beautiful cities, but confidence in 'the system', I don't think so"; "Italy is a lovely place, but it is not well regulated".
The problem is that people who say these things generally know next to nothing about Italy.
All this reminds me of when I arrived in England in 1984, and could not find anyone who did not believe that Italians have lots and lots of children. Only later did the newspapers begin to report the fact that Italy had, with Spain, the lowest birth rate in the world. A great discovery, with several years of delay.