Italy Starts Row with Electoral SMS
By Eric Lin, Fri Jun 11 22:00:00 GMT 2004

Italian opposition parties are upset that the Prime Minister's Office organized an SMS campaign informing citizens when and how to vote.


The Prime Ministers Office worked with each of the wireless operators in Italy send an SMS with voting information to every subscriber. Judging by the way candidate Roberto Giachetti reacted, one would assume the message directly or subtly urged voters to re-elect the incumbent, Silvio Berlusconi. Giachetti complained that Berlusconi already owns or controls the media, and it was a desperate act for him to send a text message to everyone's phone too.

The offending text reads:
Elections 2004. Polling stations are open on Saturday 12 between 1500 and 2200 and Sunday 13 between 0700 and 2200.
ID document and electoral certificate needed. Prime Minister's Office.
Which sounds more like a reminder to us than an advertisement for any party, especially since the Office of the Prime Minister is responsible for sending out all statewide messages. Thus not even the signature is using Berlusconi's office illegitimately.

Belusconi's party (and others, no doubt) are also using SMS campaigns to encourage voters to throw the lever for their candidates, urging friends to send each other messages about their party. Using SMS as a grassroots medium to sway politics is not new, in Europe or around the globe. Usually it is seen as a disruptive force, encouraging a regime change. Maybe that's why Berlusconi's challengers are so upset. For the first time the government has sponsored an electoral SMS campaign. Even though it's purely informative, the text could be seen as robbing the opposition of "their" medium.