(By Sandra Cordon) Rome, June 4 - From film stars and directors like Roberto Benigni and Bernardo Bertolucci, to television networks, unions and business groups, the cry is rising for the Italian government to protect its domestic media industry. More than 100 big names and organizations signed a petition presented Tuesday to Premier Enrico Letta, calling for continued support and a reprieve from feared cuts to cultural subsidies which could follow a free-trade pact between Europe and the United States. Given the US domination of the global entertainment industry, the Italian petitioners say they fear for the survival of the domestic industry and the survival of national cultural institutions. "Italy is, together with other European countries, in favour of excluding the culture and audiovisual (industries) from commercial treaties between the EU and the US," said the petition. At the core of the conflict are subsidies awarded by government to help cultural industries flourish in a sector where major American firms dominate. But now, the fear is that subsidies will be slashed in a free-trade deal between the US and the EU. In such pacts, negotiators often demand a so-called "level playing field" which usually translates as slashing government support for any relevant economic sector. That cannot be allowed, said the petition, urging the government to ensure Italy's cultural sector is exempt from such cuts. Cultural exceptions, first introduced by France to treat culture differently from other merchandise, aim at curbing the American film industry's dominance in European markets. The petitioners' concerns arise from the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which appeared in draft form earlier this year but made no mention of the cultural exception. Negotiations on the accord are scheduled to begin by summer. More broadly, they also fear the "liberalization" of cultural industries - essentially, treating culture like any other commodity that can be bought and sold. Such treatment will not only destroy culture, but also undermine the Italian economy by moving any profits - and taxable revenues - offshore. In the growing virtual marketplace, say the petition signatories, many companies operating in the cultural sector have no real corporate home or ties to any particular country. These firms "do not invest in networks and content nor the territories..(they) do not create value, or value added, or generate taxable revenue," said the petition. Others to sign the Italian petition included Oscar-winning filmmakers Giuseppe Tornatore and Gabriele Salvatores, as well as State broadcaster RAI, former premier Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset media giant, and the powerful Confindustria business confederation. The petition will be presented to the European Parliament, with its 27 member states, on June 14. The Italian petition is similar to movements in other European countries. As well, a similar document was circulated at the recent Cannes international film festival, and signed by such filmmakers Michael Haneke, Michel Hazanavicius, Catherine Breillat, Costa Gavras, Pedro Almodovar, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne and Aki Kaurismaki.
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