Pubdate: Tue, 10 Oct 2006
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2006 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Barbara McMahon


A television programme that purports to show widespread  drug use
among Italy's MPs was scrapped before  transmission last night amid
uproar over both the  results and the methods used to entrap the

In a classic sting operation some 50 politicians were  fooled into
thinking they were being interviewed about  aspects of next year's
draft budget, currently before  parliament. Instead, a make-up artist
with a satirical  TV show swabbed their eyebrows to get a sample of
their  perspiration, which was then tested for traces of  cannabis and
cocaine. Twelve allegedly tested positive  for cannabis and four for
cocaine, all apparently taken  in the 36 hours before being approached.

Although the 16 have not been named, Le Iene (The  Hyenas), well-known
for spoofs that embarrass public  figures, was cancelled over claims
that the privacy of  the politicians had been invaded.

Davide Parenti, head of the programme team, was angry  that the show
had been axed and denied that anyone's  privacy had been invaded. He
said the samples taken  from the MPs had been gathered without their
names  being attached and the programme had not planned to  identify
anyone. The politicians would have been seen  in shadow, with their
voices camouflaged.

"The spirit of the programme is not to persecute any  one person but
to be the mirror of Italy." He said the  results of the tests were "in
line with national  statistics" which show drug use is common in Italy.

Italy's politicians reacted angrily to the stunt,  however, and many
questioned the accuracy of the tests.  The former president of the
lower house, Pierferdinando  Casini, said: "The value of this
experiment is  precisely zero." He added that the problem of drug use
was nothing to joke about.

Paolo Gambescia of the Olive party said: "Even if the  names aren't
revealed, this makes us all suspects."

Italo Bocchino of the rightwing National Alliance  called for the
destruction of the samples taken from  MPs. He said programme makers
should be "severely  punished for being in illegal possession of the
DNA of  50 parliamentarians".

But the rightwing politician Alessandra Mussolini  demanded that the
names of the MPs be made public:  "Enough of double standards. If
there is a law that  punishes the use of drugs in this country it is
not  right that politicians should take them. What example  does this
give to our young people, what does this do  to the credibility of

A leftwing MP, Franco Grillini, one of the MPs  interviewed by the
programme makers, who purported to  represent Fox TV, said he was not
among those who  tested positive, because the last time he smoked
cannabis was when he was 16. "I knew something was  suspect as soon as
I was approached by the TV crew. The  girl had something hidden in her
hand when she wiped my  brow," he said. "It was obvious they weren't
in the  least interested in talking about the finance laws  because
they didn't listen to what I had to say."

He said he had no idea if the tests - conducted with a  device called
Drugswipe, which can be bought on the  internet and is used by German
and Swiss police - were  reliable.

Asked about drug-taking among Italian MPs, he said he  knew
politicians who smoked cannabis in their own  homes. "In my opinion
the idea of one parliamentarian  in three who has consumed some type
of drug, above all  light ones, is realistic. On cocaine, frankly, I
don't  know. It's more of a rightwing thing."

Italian politicians have a long history of drug  misdemeanours. In
2003 the former prime minister Emilio  Colombo admitted that he had
purchased cocaine after  his drug dealer was arrested but said it was
for  "therapeutic purposes".

Last year, during a debate on Italy's drug law, former  deputy prime
minister Gianfranco Fini admitted having  smoked a joint once while he
was on holiday in Jamaica;  Pierferdinando Casini also said he had
tried the drug,  prompting former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to
joke: "While those two were taking drugs, I was  working."

Le Iene is shown on Italia 1, a channel owned by the  Berlusconi
family. Last night's show had been due to  open a new season of the
cult TV programme, which has  gained a big following in Italy.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Elaine