Criticise Italy at your peril!
Attacks on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the British press have hit an especially raw nerve as he hosts this year’s G8 summit and some Italian newspapers have had enough.
The summit has come at a particularly sensitive time for the beleaguered Italian leader, who has been dogged for weeks by salacious scandals involving allegations he has a soft spot for underage women and has entertained escort girls.
Britain’s irreverent media have had a field day, delving into his exotic personal life and publishing lurid cartoons of the veteran Berlusconi cavorting with naked women.
Adding insult to injury, the British press have also led the charge in accusing Berlusconi of chaotic organisation of the annual G8 knees-up, with a fanciful story in the Guardian suggesting Italy might be ejected from the rich nations club.
In an image-conscious country where looking bad is a unpardonable sin, that was the final straw for some Italians and a counter-offensive is underway.
Unsurprisingly, Il Giornale newspaper, owned by Berlusconi’s family, has led the charge.
“The attack on Italy? These English are still racist,” the paper wrote on its front page on Friday, taking umbrage at a cartoon showing a grinning Berlusconi holding up a bra.
But other papers have also decided to put their foot down.
Rome’s Il Messaggero daily, taking aim at the “spoilt Anglo-Saxons”, dedicated a whole page on Friday to criticism of the British economy.
“One must say, once and for all, that on the real economy you can’t give lessons to anyone, least of all Italy,” it wrote.
Italy’s television, which has paid little attention to the Berlusconi scandals, has meanwhile presented the l’Aquila summit as an international triumph of heroic proportions.
Italian diplomats have also been drafted to the cause, with embassies abroad phoning up major media companies to pass on praise from U.S. President Barack Obama for the meeting.
Certainly Berlusconi has defied his critics in putting on a smooth, sleek show amidst the rubble of the April earthquake.
But while the Italian style is, as ever, impressive, the substance is perhaps less striking.
Unlike previous G8 hosts, Berlusconi seems to have focused his attention more on logistics than the issues, leaving other leaders to take charge of the toughest dossiers.
Obama chaired the crucial global warming talks, French President Nicolas Sarkozy led discussion on Iran and when it came to discussion on Africa, Italy was in the embarrassing position of being the meanest aid provider at the table.
But don’t expect to see such diplomatic details to get prominence in the Italian press!
And while many analysts have questioned the outcome of the talks, suggesting for example that the climate accord fell far short of what was needed, the Italian press is once again accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative.
And of course, it is all thanks to Italy. “Tired but satisfied, Berlusconi showed once again how he can achieve the best results in these occasions,” Il Messaggero said.
Photo: POOL New/Reuters