Berlusconi, as he is

May 20, 2009

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is the consummate campaigner. No matter where he finds himself, the indefatigable 72-year-old always makes sure the cameras are squarely on him.

Although he is quick to flash a smile to his supporters, Berlusconi can be just as fast in delivering barbed words to his critics. And when he does not have the time to do it, his supporters are more than happy to oblige.

The newspaper Il Libero, for instance, uses its front page to wage war against his adversaries, old and new.

When his wife called for a divorce after criticising his party for considering former actresses and TV showgirls to run in the European elections, it lashed out. It published old photos of her baring her breasts on a theatrical stage and ran a headline telling her that she was of the same ilk.

Il Libero also uses inserts to great effect. Last week, it started publishing a serial recounting the life of Berlusconi.

Reminiscent of the booklet about his life that Berlusconi sent to voters’ homes ahead of the 2006 election, the serial highlights in glowing terms his transformation from cruise ship crooner to real estate mogul to media magnate to prime minister.

“He is not a common man,” Vittorio Feltri, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, tells Reuters.

The timing of its publication could not be better.

Not only does it come ahead of the European elections in June, but also at a time when Italy’s left-wing press is focusing on one of the reasons for his wife wanting a divorce: her accusation that he had an affair with a teenaged girl, something which Berlusconi denies.

Entitled “Berlusconi, as he is: (The) life, conquests, battles and passions of a political man unique in the world,” the serial is replete with photos of Berlusconi as well as articles illustrating every aspect of his life. There is one about him choosing the flowers for the garden at his villa, especially the crocus, which he cherishes for its “delicate colours and particular scent”.

One of the 16 inserts in the serial speaks of his admiration for Barack Obama despite the “privileged” relationship he enjoyed with former U.S. President George W. Bush. It nevertheless publishes his joke about Obama being “suntanned”, dismissing the outrage that it caused by criticising the scandalised “radical chic” for not being able to take a joke.

Il Giornale is even more fervent in its defence of Berlusconi, especially since the newspaper is owned by his brother, Paolo.

In its latest issue, it dedicates two pages to criticising foreign journalists for giving just as much attention to the wife’s accusation as the left-wing press.

As for the serial on Berlusconi, Il Libero’s Feltri says the newspaper decided to produce it because the upcoming European elections had heightened its readers’ interest in politics.

Its publication had already led to a 17 percent jump in sales, he says.

“Silvio is one of the biggest sellers,” he says.

Although the divorce from his wife has taken a few points away from his popularity, Berlusconi still finds favour among 53 percent of Italians surveyed in the latest independent poll.

Feltri says he would be willing to put out a serial about a left-wing politician but he had difficulty finding someone as compelling as Berlusconi.

“They don’t sell,” he says.

PHOTO: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi smiles to photographers after meeting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow May 16, 2009. REUTERS/Maxim Shipenikov

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