Italian Journalist’s Asbestos War 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Italians were shocked to the core by the appearance of journalist Franco Di Mare on the Sunday night TV chatshow – Che tempo che fa (What's the weather like) – on April 28, 2024. Sixty-eight-year old Di Mare, who was speaking remotely, was shown using a respirator as he announced that he was seriously ill with the asbestos cancer, mesothelioma.1 During a dramatic interview with Fabio Fazio, Di Mare laid bare the devastating impact of the disease and its poor prognosis: mesothelioma has, he said “a very long latency period and when it manifests itself it is too late.”


Explaining that the cancer had most likely been caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers in Balkan war zones, Di Mare said that former employers and colleagues at the RAI – a television channel owned and operated by the Italian state-owned public broadcaster Radiotelevisione italiana (RAI) – had turned their back on him, refusing to provide information about work assignments or return phone calls.2 Categorizing the behavior of RAI’s management as “repugnant,” Di Mare added: “They should be ashamed.”

Di Mare’s cancer was diagnosed three years ago. After experiencing “a terrible pain exploding between my shoulder blades,” a medical examination showed that his right lung had totally collapsed. An operation was performed which relieved his symptoms but six months ago, there was a recurrence. For the last ten days, he has relied on the use of the respirator to breathe as his lung capacity has diminished by two thirds.3

It did not go unnoticed that Di Mare’s bombshell was dropped on April 28, International Workers Memorial Day, an annual event commemorated not only by trade unions but also by asbestos victims’ groups throughout Italy which have adopted April 28 as “World Mesothelioma Day.”4

Media coverage of Di Mare’s TV interview was massive. Di Mare was a household name and a long-time presence in Italian homes having worked on all three of the RAI channels in various capacities. 5 Over his 30+ year with RAI, Di Mare served as a foreign correspondent, a political interviewer, a TV presenter, and host of several popular current affairs programs. A google search of “Di Mare + amianto (asbestos)” found 50+ stories; there’s no knowing how many TV broadcasts featured the news about one of the country’s most famous TV presenters.6 Many of the articles used Di Mare’s diagnosis as a starting point for a discussion about the widespread epidemic still claiming thousands of Italian lives every year, despite the fact that the use of asbestos was banned in 1992.

Like Franco Di Mare, Spanish TV personality José María Iñigo contracted mesothelioma as a result of workplace asbestos exposures. After a tortuous legal battle, the Spanish Supreme Court aligned itself with Spain’s national broadcaster RTVE to reject the claim from the bereaved Iñigo family. The basis for this infamous decision was, said the Court, that the deceased had not engaged in a designated activity with a high risk of asbestos exposure as specified in the Spanish table of occupational diseases. The fact that the RTVE studios in Madrid were, like those belonging to RAI in Rome and the BBC in London, full of asbestos simply did not enter into the equation.7

One can but hope that the intensive media focus on Franco Di Mare’s story will encourage his former employer to provide the support this well-loved figure is entitled to after decades of service. Whether the toxic exposure took place in the heat of battle in Bosnia or in the air-conditioned studios in Rome, RAI has a debt to pay.

May 2, 2024


1 Franco Di Mare: «Ho un tumore incurabile, il mesotelioma: si prende respirando le particelle di amianto» [Franco Di Mare: “I have a very bad tumor, mesothelioma: you get it by breathing asbestos particles”]. April 28, 2024.
Franco Di Mare, la malattia scoperta 3 anni fa: «Al posto del polmone destro c'era il nulla. La Rai? Piena di amianto» [Franco Di Mare, the disease discovered 3 years ago: “Instead of the right lung there was nothing. La Rai? Full of asbestos”]. April 29, 2024.

2 Throughout his career, Di Mare had also been a director of Rai3 and a journalist on RAI.

3 Franco Di Mare e il tumore: "Al posto del polmone destro c'era il nulla” [Franco Di Mare and the tumor: "In place of the right lung there was nothingness”]. April 29. 2024.

4 Senato della RepubblicaXIX LEGISLATURA N. 346 Istituzione della Giornata in memoria delle vittime dell'amianto e assegnazione di un riconoscimento onorifico ai comuni maggiormente colpiti [Senate of the Republic XIX LEGISLATIVE No. 346 Establishment of the Day in memory of asbestos victims and assignment of an honorary recognition to the municipalities most affected]. November 2022.

5 Franco Di Mare. Accessed May 1, 2024.

6 L'amiante, un danger toujours présent en Italie [Asbestos Still a Danger in Italy]. April 29, 2024.
Puncieran, N. Amianto e mesotelioma: una bomba a orologeria [Asbestos and mesothelioma: a ticking time bomb]. April 30, 2024.

7 Joint Press Release. Betrayed Three Times Over! August 12, 2022.



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