Sunday, 9 October 2011

Sicily's tiny anti-Mafia TV channel


Sicilian TV station that campaigns against the Mafia, Telejato, is among hundreds of channels threatened with closure due to a change in the law. Partinico is a pretty nondescript little town - a handful of baroque churches, a couple of elegant palazzos and a lot of ugly concrete in between. If it were not for the fact that it is in the so-called "Mafia Bermuda Triangle", perhaps nobody outside the province of Palermo would have heard of it. As it is, like Corleone, it is a name that prompts Italians to raise an eyebrow and suck in their breath when you tell them you are planning to visit. Discreet entrance My point of departure is San Giuseppe Jato, another former Mafia stronghold. Continue reading the main story From Our Own Correspondent Broadcast on Saturdays at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4 and weekdays on BBC World Service Listen to the BBC Radio 4 version Download the podcast Listen to the BBC World Service version Explore the archive Having just visited a vineyard on land confiscated from an infamous jailed boss, I decide to try my luck with the only direct bus of the day to Partinico. I do what the traffic warden advises and wave it down in the middle of the road, just in front of the toy shop. After a picturesque journey through the Jato Valley, I alight an hour later at my destination, a town where the mountains rise up above the church steeples and illegal attic extensions. I find the block of flats which is home to Telejato without too much difficulty. It is on a quiet side street away from the bustle of the main road. The building number seems right but there is no sign or any directions to the TV station inside. I conclude that the best way to find Pino Maniaci is to follow my nose. As I climb the staircase, the smell of cigarette smoke gets stronger. I follow the aroma up to the second floor, through an unlocked door and into the newsroom. Pino Maniaci's daughter Letizia is the station's main reporter It is 13:20 and they go live at 14:00. Pino, his daughter and a couple of volunteer journalists are putting together the bulletin. When I come in, he turns towards me, cigarette between his lips. After the briefest of greetings he says, "We're on air soon so sit down and don't break my balls." His daughter looks up and grins. "Don't worry, that's how he talks to everyone," she says. Indeed Pino Maniaci, when not inhaling smoke, is invariably exhaling expletives. Unable to sit still and not wishing to be a ball-breaker, I nose around the small converted apartment. You can tell by the pictures, tributes and cuttings on the walls, just how proud Pino is of Telejato. Courage He has turned a tiny local TV station into one of Sicily's most powerful anti-Mafia voices. Continue reading the main story “ Start Quote With his Groucho Marx-style moustache and Chico Marx-style accent, he boasts that even the Mafia watch Telejato” He says nearly all the locals watch it. In the heart of Cosa Nostra territory, he was the first journalist to dare to give the full names of arrested mafiosi. Before him, nobody published more than initials for fear of reprisals. Pino, his family and a small team of volunteers put together a daily news show, which is dominated by Mafia and corruption stories. "We're always first on the scene," he tells me. "Even international channels like CNN call and ask to use our footage." The station works closely with the various police forces, including the Catturandi di Palermo - a special squad that hunts mafiosi in hiding. "Wherever we show up, they're there. Wherever they show up, we're there." Pino's childlike bravado conceals his genuine courage. With his Groucho Marx-style moustache and Chico Marx-style accent, he boasts that even the Mafia watch Telejato. "We were the only ones to interview the brother of Bernardo Provenzano, one of the biggest Mafia bosses," he tells me. With a gleeful twinkle, Pino continues, "We even discovered that Provenzano himself had an aerial specially positioned to pick up our signal. If you listen to the police wire taps, you can hear our signature tune!" Murder attempt Telejato has a motto: "They consider themselves men of honour. For us, dishonouring them is a question of honour." Pino uses derision as both weapon and shield, but he admits he is scared, especially for his family. "I smoke three packets a day and always joke that it's just as well the biggest room in our tiny station is the bathroom!" Living under police escort, he has suffered countless attacks - slashed tyres, severed brake cables, burnt-out cars, windscreens shattered by gunshots. "They even tried to bump me off!" he chuckles, describing a failed attempt to strangle him, which left him with four fractured ribs, a broken leg, a black eye and several broken teeth. At 17:00, it is time for me to head for the station to catch a train up to Palermo. Pino refuses to let me go without showing me some true Sicilian hospitality. Police escort in tow, we go to a nearby coffee bar. Everyone, including the officers, gets an espresso and Pino insists I taste a cannolo, the island's famous ricotta-filled pastry. "I have to keep Telejato going," says Pino between mouthfuls, "so that one day Sicily will be more famous for these than for the Mafia."