Berlusconi vs foreign media

June 5, 2009

It is always surprising that, for a media mogul, Silvio Berlusconi has had such a fraught relationship with the foreign press. The mutual dislike has escalated in recent weeks as the unwelcome attention of the foreign and domestic media has focused on the 72-year-old prime minister’s relationship with a Naples teenager.
Now the prime minister and his aides repeatedly accuse the foreign press of waging a campaign against him at the instigation of the left-wing press in Italy, while the Berlusconi family paper Il Giornale makes more targeted attacks on foreign correspondents.
The latest to be struck off his Christmas Card list — he has long been in dispute with The Economist which called him “unfit” to run Italy — are The Times, Financial Times and Independent of London, France’s Le Figaro, Germany’s Die Welt and Spain’s El Pais, which has just released photos of topless women at a poolside party at Berlusconi’s Villa Certosa mansion in Sardinia — photos which Berlusconi has so far managed to prevent being published in Italy. All of these papers have recently published articles and editorials that are highly critical of the one-year-old Berlusconi government. The FT — not exactly a notorious left-wing organ — called him “a ruthless man and “a danger, in the first place to Italy, and a malign example to all”. The Times capped a series of pieces with an editorial entitled “The Clown’s Mask Slips” and El Pais said the latest scandal, regarding the use of state flights to transport guests to the party in Sardinia, “leaves Berlusconi naked, not as a citizen, but as a politician”.
Initially saying it would “laugh off” this criticism, the Italian government then went on the offensive and portray such pieces as an insult to the entire country.
The government’s real ire, however, is reserved for The Times, which is owned by News Corp and Sky TV owner Rupert Murdoch. Berlusconi depicts it as a vendetta over his dispute over a rise on VAT for pay-TV with Sky.
Cabinet ministers have rushed to his support, with Welfare Minister Maurizio Sacconi telling Il Giornale this week that “behind every international organisation that speaks out against Italy and behind every hostile foreign press article, we must always look for an Italian or Italians”. He accused the foreign press of attacking Italy “for fun … a vice typical of the radical communist left which has no sense of national interest”.
What is perhaps most unusual about Berlusconi’s response — apart from the interesting idea of a leftist plot involving the FT and Murdoch — is that it reacts so loudly and at such a high level to foreign media articles. It is hard to imagine any other prime minister or president of a G8 country responding in person, and so angrily, to a foreign newspaper piece.
This irritability comes at a difficult time for Berlusconi when his high standing in polls and likely strong showing in the European elections contrasts with media scrutiny of his private life, prompted by his wife’s divorce request and her comments about him “frequenting minors” and, enigmatically, being “not well”. The sense of angst is magnified by Berlusconi himself raising the spectre of 1994, when his first government suffered setbacks in the form of a court case and was then toppled by his own allies. Berlusconi is using words like “subversion” when he talks about magistrates investigating him in various cases including, most recently, the fuss over the Sardinian party.
It is not all bad news for Berlusconi in the foreign press: the New York Times ran a story about plans to nominate him for the Nobel prize — and helpfully provided the website of the committee trying to put him up for the honour.
Do you think the foreign press is unfair on Berlusconi and/or Italy? Is it being influenced by “leftists” in Italy? How should the Italian government respond to critical media coverage?


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And this man is hosting the very important G8 summit ?

Posted by Neil | Report as abusive

The point that Berlusconi oddly responds personally to many foreign press articles is interesting and evidences his rather enigmatic demeanor, however for Italians reputation and appearances are monumental psychological factors which influence every aspect of life (it seems especially true the further south one ventures in Bella Italia). Living in Italy for two years, I was often struck by the psycho-social differences between myself and my Italian friends. For many, committing what might be considered a dishonorable action (such as marital infidelity) wasn’t, in and of itself, problematic or, for lack of a better word, “wrong.” Rather, the social stressors arose from such actions being discovered and brought to public light, worst of all to one’s family. Though some might attribute such as similar to the conventional idea of shame, the subtly nuanced difference was that the act itself was typically not viewed as morally deficient, it was only viewed as such in light of its revelation. Perhaps the most tragic point in stories such as Berlusconi’s is that his psychological, social, and cultural compass is being measured by other societies and cultures possessing different moral and ethical bearings. After all, I wouldn’t get upset with an apple for not tasting like a banana…

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

El Berlusconi’s fraught relationship with the media titles he, or his family, can’t control and edit isn’t that surprising. Still it’s fun watching him raise the double standard, it’s just a shame he might have some impact on the EU or G8.

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

It is indeed curious how many of the stories about Berlusconi in both the Italian and foreign press appear just before important elections or international forums such as G8, G20,…etc. It does make you wonder…..

Clearly there is a lot of piling-on going on here by the press, but Berlusconi does not help his own cause with his flamboyant behavior that goes against the grain of political etiquette. Some people see his behavior as open and refreshing for a political leader (he does not hide his flaws), and some people see the need for political leaders to behave within the standards of current political etiquette. It really is nothing more than this.

After all, Mitterand had an illegimate son with another woman while he was married (and he is not the only one), and the European press seemed much more respectful to him. I suspect that this is because Mitterand followed political etiquette in public…..

Posted by Lew P | Report as abusive

Of course it is a leftist conspiracy. And it’s been going on for a long time. The Economist is a full left magazine, bashing America and every right-leaning European politician all the time. It is no coincidence that these articles are printed at the time of EU elections. The European left feels threatend and would resort to anything. BTW, what Berslusconi does in his private villa is entirely his business.

Posted by James | Report as abusive

I am sure the editorial staff of The Economist will even now be delightedly printing out James’s remarks – “The Economist is a full left magazine, bashing America and every right-leaning European politician all the time” – in order to hang them on their hall-of-fame wall. Clearly James and I have been reading a different weekly magazine.

The sad truth is that all the juicy stories about gorgeous pouting bimbos actually distract people from the real rank and vile nature of the Berlusconi beast: its domination of the domestic media, the convenient immunity deals, and the persistent harassment of the Italian judiciary.

Ultimately his burlesque party-animal behaviour merely shows bad judgement – the true veniality lies elsewhere. And a certain section of the Italian population actively forgives him his laddishness – “He may be an embarrassing boor, but he’s OUR boor”.

Greater scrutiny of his politics and finances, please, and less of his extra-marital affairs.

Posted by William | Report as abusive

Berlusconi’s handlers are are illiterate and idiots. Rupert Murdoch involved in a leftist communist plot. Hilarious! Obviously no one in the Prime Ministers cabinet checks out Fox News. I can’t stop laughing.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Why you think Italian vote for Berlusconi, because the country is missing real information from inside and outside Italy, news is realy controled, and also the top and rulers have the (black) money and the power, almost nobody speaks Englisch, even if they have a University degree. If you want a job you need to know someone, not because your qualifications. The people is misleaded, but they don t know. Al Italia is gone… 6 trains from Milano to Genova to French border every day do not drive anymore…. no money.. The money is at the dictators and they lie with a smile !. I know a story 65 years ago, started simulair. The decendentie of the Italian top is on the same level. I live partial in italy, have many friends know families from inside..,i know a lot.. it makes me cry…. italy is so beautifull but so corrupt.

Posted by Marcus | Report as abusive

A leftist plot!? Hilarious. Pretty obvious where that’s coming from.. You obviously have no idea what Rupert Murdoch is all about.

And the idea that a head of state is not to be scrutinized as a person for what he does in private is laughable! And below no one on the left or the right. Unfortunately in these often democratically bankrupt days, elections are usually based largely around the personal character of a candidate instead of the character of their parties. Anything to swing the politically uneducated voters to one side or the other.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

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