With a down-sliding economy, the political tide now may be turning for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. And it seems this time, TV isn't keeping him afloat.
Berlusconi: Italy's longest serving postwar premier
Silvio Berlusconi may nave immense political and media power, but it hasn't been enough for Italy's billionaire prime minister. When journalists bring to light unpleasant facts such as his association with the mafia, charges against him for bribing judges, and his tailor-made laws to get him and friends off the legal hook, he hasn't liked it.
In its April 28, 2003 issue, The Economist's cover page read "Why Berlusconi is Unfit to Lead Italy." Journalist David Lane wrote the article that chronicled many of Berlusconi's shady dealings. The Italian prime minister sued. Four years later, Lane's still involved in the lawsuit against the magazine.
The Economist struck again with their Aug. 1, 2003 title: "Dear Mr. Berlusconi: A Challenge to Italy's Prime Minister"
Lane, the author numerous damning articles on Berlusconi, said Italy's leader doesn't only lack understanding of the role of a critical press in a healthy democracy. He also has been a disaster on the economic front. Even worse, Lane said, Berlusconi has wasted precious energy as a leader claiming he's the victim of a political witch hunt.
"He's always maintained that the foreign press is in league with the centre-left opposition," Lane said. "And despite the fact that The Economist is a notoriously right-wing magazine, he seems to believe that we, in common with other newspapers and magazines from outside Italy, are out to get him."
"Never, never, never…"
In his first appearance as prime minister on public network, Rai, which he now controls, he said the plot against him doesn't stop with left wingers and the foreign press. It includes, well, almost everyone.
"I've always contended that there's the official state and then a parallel state made up of powerful segments of society that are in the hands of the left," Berlusconi said. "They include high schools, universities, newspapers, radios, television, judges, the Constitutional Court, and I'll stop here simply to be charitable to my homeland. Some Italians understand this, but the rest need to see this, too."
Berlusconi went even further, saying that with the exception of one newscaster, Emilio Fede, a notorious Berlusconi cheerleader, his TV channels are unpartisan, and "there have never been attacks on my political rivals."
"It's an amazing lie because Berlusconi last year had important Italian journalists, such as Michele Santoro, Enzo Biagi, fired from public television," explained Tommaso DiBenedetti. The columnist said Berlusconi's favorite method of silencing critics is by firing them. But he's also turned to the courts to put a chill on political debate.
Giovanni Valentini, a journalist at Rome's La Repubblica daily, is one of the many Berlusconi is suing. In the article in question, Valentini identified the prime minister's conflict of interest in pocketing $3 million (3.8 million euros) from TV ads a year. "Don't forget that he's the strongest political man in Europe, one thousand times richer than the American president," Valentini stressed.
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