A young, up-and-coming Italian press baron waxed militant over the right of the countrys immigrants to vote in local and national elections.
"Never relent," he urged them. "The future belongs to you. Win this battle for yourselves, your children, for those all over the world forced to leave their homes."
Gianluca Luciano, a 34-year-old Calabrian, penned the exhortation in identical editorials carried by 15 monthly newspapers he and his partner own. Published in nearly as many languages, the papers include "Africa News", "Gazeta Romneasca" for the big Romanian community, "Agora" for Brazilians, "Nasz Swiat" for the Poles, "Al Maghrebiya" for Arabs from north Africa and "Azad" for Pakistanis.
"If they dont get the right to vote here in Italy, theyll get it nowhere else in Europe," maintained Luciano in his smart office in Via del Babuino in the centre of Rome. A self-styled former street lawyer, Luciano has experience in the voluntary services, a lot of it spent on street corners impressing upon immigrants their legal rights in Italy. He aptly named his three-year-old little newspaper empire "Stranieri in Italia". It already enjoys a following of half a million, he claimed, including not only readers but listeners to radio stations and visitors to its lively, immigrant-orientated website, www.stranieriinitalia.com.
In a streamlined, cost-paring operation, his papers are actually edited all together in a building near Via Laurentina, in southern Rome. The premises belong to the American money-transfer conglomerate Western Union, which is the "Stranieri" groups heaviest advertiser, the papers being an obvious instrument for reaching the immigrants who are its main customers. Lucianos partner, Francesco Costa, is Western Unions agent in Italy.
The papers are remarkably professional-looking jobs, all sharing the same tabloid format, and put together by paid journalists of 12 nationalities, working in cubicles plastered with arresting front pages.
One such journalist is 30-year-old Stephen Ogongo from Kenya, editor of "Africa News", who was working to meet a Friday deadline for his April issue. He turns it out single-handedly in his cubicle, though he has plenty of sources at his disposal, including a network of paid stringers scattered across Italy, who help fill the four pages regularly devoted to the activities of Africans in the country. Other sources, all scrupulously quoted, include the news agencies Reuters and Agence France Presse, as well as the BBC monitoring service at Caversham near Reading.
In common with editors of the other papers, Ogongo can also fall back on in-house legal experts to guide him through the thickets of immigration legislation. He has a squad of Italian graphic designers on hand, and can dip into a common news pool that includes ready-made Italian stories, such as the Parmalat scandal, the euro-lira argument, or sometimes investigations carried out by Lucianos publishing house itself. A recent one, picked up by the Italian press, revealed that employers demand for immigrant labourers far outstripped the governments stingy quotas.
Ogongo left Kenya, and his home in Kisuma near Lake Victoria, in 1995 to study journalism at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and finds his job "really interesting". He explained: "Its a challenging environment here. Being in touch daily with colleagues from around the world, you not only get an insight into different cultures, but learn how sensitive they are to what you say, to the way you greet them for instance. No longer do I take greetings for granted."
His journalism is gutsy. When, recently, the United States and Britain praised Libya on its voluntary move to eliminate its self-acknowledged weapons stockpile Ogongos sarcastic comment on the front page read: "If you want to win the friendship of the US, then shout loudest that you are against terrorists. If possible, disclose that you have weapons of mass destruction and that you have decided to scrap them." The headline for this months issue highlights mutual accusations between France and Rwanda over the responsibilities for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Luciano acknowledged: "I make no bones about it. My partner and I are old friends and businessmen interested in profit, but we thought an intelligent way of making money would be to lay on media outlets for the immigrants. It fitted in well with our common conviction that firms must have a social responsibility."
Ogongo described Luciano as: "a wonderful man. You never feel hes the boss. Hes very dynamic, always challenging you to come out with a better paper."
Other newspapers not belonging to the "Stranieri in Italia" group are also available in Rome. These include the Albanian paper "Bota Shqiptare" featured in the 31 March issue of Wanted in Rome, "Forum Ucraina" catering for Ukrainians and Russians, the Milan-based multicultural humanist monthly "Alien", at least three Chinese papers, including "Nuova Cina", published in Rome, and the Milan-based "Europe China News", and a magazine for readers from Bangladesh.
Photo. Stephen Ogongo at work on Africa News