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Censorship in Italy under Fascism
Censorship in Italy was not created with Fascism, nor did it end with it, but it had heavy influence in the life of Italians under the Regime.
The main goals of this activity were, c mmmoncisely:
- Control over the public appearance of the regime, also obtained with the deletion of any content that could allow opposition, suspects, or doubts on fascism.
- Constant check of the public opinion as a measuring instrument of consensus.
- Creation of national and local archives (schedatura) in which each citizen was filed and classified depending on his ideas, his habits, his relationship and his eventual shameful acts or situations; in this sense, censorship was used as an instrument for the creation of a state of police.
Censorship fought ideological and defeatist contents, and any other work or content that could enforce disturbing cultural themes.
Censorship in public communications
This branch of the activity was mainly ruled by the Ministero della Cultura Popolare (Ministry of popular culture), commonly abbreviated as Min.Cul.Pop. (with a weird assonance). This administration had competence on all the contents that could appear in newspapers, radio, literature, theatre, cinema, and generally any other form of communication or art.
In literature, editorial industries had their own controlling servants steadily on site, but sometimes it could happen that some texts reached the libraries and in this case an efficient organization was able to capture all the copies in a very short time.
An important note deserves the question of foreign languages: with the "Autarchia" (the general maneuver for self-sufficiency) they had been banned, and any attempt to use a non-Italian word resulted in a formal censoring action.
Censorship did not however impose heavy limits on foreign literature, and many of the foreigner authors were freely readable. Those authors could freely frequent Italy and even write about it, with no reported troubles.
In 1930 it was forbidden the distribution of books that contained Marxist or like ideologies, but these books could be collected in public libraries in special sections not open to the general public. The same happened for the books that were sequestrated. All these texts could be read under authorization for scientific or cultural purposes, but it is said that this permission was quite easy to obtain. Books were burnt in 1938: those works containing themes about Jewish culture, freemasonry, communist ideas, were removed also by libraries (but it has been said that effectively the order was not executed with zeal, being a very unpopular position of the Regime). In order to avoid inspections by the police, many librarians just preferred to hide the texts, which in fact were found at the end of the war.
Censorship and press
It has been said that Italian press self-censored itself before the censorship commission could do it. Effectively the actions against press were formally very few, but it has been noted that due to press hierarchical organization, the regime felt to be quite safe, controlling it by the direct naming of directors and responsible.
Most of the intellectuals that after the was would have freely expressed their anti-fascism, were however journalists during fascism, and quite comfortably could find a way to work in a system in which news directly came from the government (so-called "veline", by the tissue-paper used for type-writer copies) and only had to be adapted to the forms and the styles of each respective target audience.
Newer revisionists talk about a servility of journalists, but are surprisingly followed in this concept by many other authors and by some leftist ones too, since the same suspect was always attributed to Italian press, before, during and after the Ventennio, and still in recent times the category has not completely demonstrated yet its independence from "strong powers". A well known Italian journalist writer, Ennio Flaiano, certainly an anti-fascist, used to say that journalists don't need to care of "that irrelevant majority of Italians".
Independent (illegal) press used clandestine print and distribution, and was mainly connected with the activities of local political groups.
The control on legitimate papers was practically operated by faithful civil servants at the printing machines and this allows reporting a common joke affirming that any text that could reach readers had been "written by the Duce and approved by the foreman".
As in any strong system, fascist censorship suggested to compose papers with a wider attention on chronicle in the most delicate political moments, in order to distract the public opinion from the dangerous passages of the government. Press then created "monsters" or focused on other terrifying figures (murderers, serial killers, terrorists, pedophiles, etc.). When needed, an image of a safe ordered State was instead to be stressed, then police were able to capture all the criminals and, as a famous topic says, trains were always in perfect time. All these maneuvers were commonly directed by MinCulPop directly.
For completeness, it has to be recalled that after the fascism, democratic republic did not change the essence of the fascist law on press, which is now organized as it was before, like the law on access to the profession of journalist remained unaltered.
About satire and related press, Fascism was not more severe, and in fact a famous magazine, Marc'Aurelio, was able to live with little trouble. In 1924-1925, during the most violent times of fascism (when squads used brutality against opposition) with reference to the death of Giacomo Matteotti killed by fascists, Marc'Aurelio published a series of heavy jokes and "comic" drawings describing Mussolini finally distributing peace; eternal peace, in this case. Marc'Aurelio however would have turned to a more integrated tone during the following years and in 1938 (the year of the racial laws) published tasteless anti-Semitic contents.
Censorship in private communications
Quite obviously, any telephone call was at risk of being intercepted and, sometimes, interrupted by censors.
Not all the letters were opened, but not all those which were read by censors had the regular stamp that recorded the executed control. Most of the censorship was very probably not declared, in order to secretly consent further police investigations.
Chattering en plein air was indeed very risky, as a special section of investigators dealt with what people was saying on the roads; an eventual accusation by some policeman in disguise was evidently very hard to disprove and many people reported of having been falsely accused of anti-national sentiments, just for personal interests of the spy. Consequently, after the first cases, people commonly avoided talking publicly.
The greatest amount of documents about fascist censorship comes from the military commissions for censorship.
This is also due to some facts: first of all the war had brought many Italians far from their houses, creating a need for writing to their families that previously did not exist. Secondarily, in a critic situation as a war can be, obviously military authorities were compelled to a major activity in order to control eventual internal oppositions, spies or (most important) defeatists. Finally, the result of the war could not allow fascists to hide or delete these documents (which it is supposed might have happened for other ones before the war), that remained in public offices where they were found by occupating troops. So we can now read thousands of letters that soldiers sent to their families, and these documents revealed as a unique resource for sociology (and general knowledge about those times).
The work was daily organized, resumed and composed in a note that daily was received by Mussolini or his apparatus and by the other major authorities. (See, in Italian, a wide excerpt here )
Notes reported, i.e., what soldiers could think about relevant events, what was the opinion in Italy, similar arguments.
Italians and censorship
The fact that Italians were well aware of the fact that any communication could be intercepted, recorded, analyzed and eventually used against them, caused that censorship in time became a sort of usual rule to consider, and soon most people used jargons or other conventional systems to overtake the rules. Opposition was expressed in satiric ways or with some geniously studied legal tricks, one of which was to sing publicly the Hymn of Sardinia, which should have been forbidden not being in Italian language, but it could not be forbidden being one of the symbols of the Savoy house.
It has to be said that in most of the small villages, life continued as before, since the local authorities used a very familiar style in executing such orders. Also in many urban realities, civil servants used little zeal and more humanity. But the general effect was indeed relevant.
In theatre censorship caused a revival of "canovaccio" and Commedia dell'Arte: given that all the stories had to obtain a prior permission before being performed, stories were summarized and officially were improvisations on a given theme.
- Areopagitica: A speech of Mr. John Milton for the liberty of unlicensed printing to the Parliament of England
- Freedom of the press in Italy