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RAI presenter shoots himself in the foot over Malta claims

Strong Maltese reaction to Italian presenter’s comments

TV presenter Massimo Giletti’s false allegation in a Domenica In debate yesterday that Malta shot immigrants led to an immediate response by the Maltese government.

TV presenter Massimo Giletti’s false allegation in a Domenica In debate yesterday that Malta shot immigrants led to an immediate response by the Maltese government.

The government intervened when the presenter of a popular afternoon programme on the Italian state TV RAI claimed Malta was “shooting illegal immigrants” when explaining why they were heading for Lampedusa instead.

The comments by Massimo Giletti, presenter of Domenica In – L’Arena on RaiUno, sparked the outrage of the Maltese watching, who immediately called for a reaction from the Foreign Affairs Ministry to rebut the “unacceptable and infuriating” statement they felt was shedding a bad light on Malta.

Mr Giletti, who was conducting a discussion on the exodus of immigrants from Tunisia – over 15,000 have landed on the Italian island since mid-January, including about 13,500 in the last 20 days alone, and more were on the way, prompting the protests of its inhabitants – insisted: “Why Italy and not Malta?”

According to him, it was because the Maltese authorities were shooting at the migrants.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry was immediately on the phone to the Italian Ambassador to Malta, demanding a right of reply and, in no time, Malta’s Ambassador to Italy, Walter Balzan, was on air, telling the presenter his claim was “absolutely incorrect”.

However, at no point did Mr Giletti retract his statement and merely put it down to a “misunderstanding” that he just about acknowledged. He kept pressing Mr Balzan on why the migrants went to Lampedusa rather than Malta, insisting there had to be a reason and arguing Malta must be using some other “technique”.

Malta was larger and “more welcoming” than the Italian island, even if he started his telephone conversation with Mr Balzan saying Malta was known to use “hard tactics” when dealing with illegal immigration, compared to the Italians.

Mr Balzan said Malta always adhered to international law. He refrained from offering an explanation as to why the migrants headed for Lampedusa, saying that was another story, with Mr Giletti, putting it down to a “touristic choice”.

Insisting that the question remained why the migrants were not heading towards Malta, he concluded by adding “beati voi!” (lucky you).

Mr Balzan was also asked by a member of the panel whether it was true Malta had prevented entry to a ship carrying migrants, including a woman who had just given birth. Mr Balzan answered the government had no information of the sort.

The Armed Forces of Malta later categorically denied Mr Giletti’s accusations, insisting no person at sea ever requested assistance and this was denied.

It is not the first time Malta’s name has been bandied about on Italian TV in relation to migration. A similar incident occurred on the Italia Uno programme Le Iene two years ago.

A Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said he wrote to Scandinavian newspapers, particularly in Denmark and Sweden, every week to rebut false accusations of the sort. However, it was the first time Malta was accused of shooting at migrants.

The Italian ambassador to Malta, Luigi Marras, insisted on downplaying the incident, saying it by no means reflected the position of the Italian government and, least of all, its people, but merely that of a journalist.

Mr Marras expressed his surprise and that of fellow Italians at the presenter’s comments, saying both countries were working intensely to face the “challenge of historical relevance”.

The programme’s popularity is reflected in the number of comments Mr Giletti’s accusations attracted from Maltese on timesofmalta.com. They requested a public apology for the shameful attitude of the “persona non grata” and from the Italian government.

Legal action against him and firing him from the national station were also mentioned and one reader even said he cancelled a holiday to Italy. Others suggested a protest in front of the Italian Embassy against Mr Giletti’s “defamation”.

As for the reason why immigrants landed in Lampedusa, those who posted comments on timesofmalta.com said all Mr Giletti needed was a map of the Mediterranean, which would show Tunisia was nearer to Lampedusa.

Mr Balzan was also criticised by readers for the way he replied, failing to address the “lie” effectively and explain why the illegal immigrants landed in Lampedusa, a link to mainland Europe.

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