Criticise Italy at your peril!

July 10, 2009

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


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

“There have been allegations he has a soft spot for underage women” Mind you this is the prime minister of Italy having underage sex, his actions make him extremely vulnerable to blackmail and could even jeopardise state security. Italy doesn’t seem to care.

Posted by Nikkei 225 | Report as abusive

ive never read anything positive on silvio in the britis press and think he should be complemented for hosting the g-8.

Posted by Angus | Report as abusive

The British press must stop making fun of fellow European countries, especially Italy. Italy has done a stunning job and should only receive positive notes. If you read other newspapers, not only was the organization excellent, but enormous progress was made on major issues confronting the world.
And for Nikkei 225: I’m not Italian but have many Italian colleagues and friends, mind you that the country cares a lot of what the world thinks and Silvio isn’t putting any “state security” at risk. Read the fine print and you will see that Italy is now one of the safest countries in Europe thanks to Silvio’s party which recently passed new national security regulations. I wish people would read and know of a topic before they post their empty opinions on the web.

Posted by caliboy | Report as abusive

Re Italy’s being the ‘meanest’ aid provider to Africa…

One only has to visit Italy to realize that, in supporting impoverished Africans, they’ve already got their hands full at home, much less outside their borders.

Posted by OttoDog | Report as abusive

@Angus: my sentiments exactly. complemented by someone more capable, preferably.

Posted by Katja | Report as abusive

I spoke to an illegal immigrant who fled after his family were killed and his life was threatened following the US occupation in Iraq. He said Italy was the most moral country he stayed in in europe.
Some countries in europe carry out state murder/torture of illegal immigrants (greece, eastern european countries, etc).
He found respect, good quality food, and basic shelter in the churches and people of Italy. This is something no other country (he was in them all ! provided).
The way the Police, Judiciary and government and people interacted with him was also seamless and smooth. There is one thing the Italians do well. It’s being smooth ! lol.
Admittedly there are allot of economic immigrants who we do not need in a recession who should be sent back.
But for people fleeing for their lives, Italy is a shining example, particularly when they are geographically under pressure from sea invasion by economic migrants, making sifting out the real asylum cases difficult.
The immigrants testimony to me will cause me to visit Italy as a first-time tourist soon.

Posted by steve | Report as abusive

Italy has so much to be proud of: culture,learning, customs, etiquette, fashion, food, etc; the list goes on and on. There is so much colour and life: in fact there is never a dull moment. In Italian politics too, politicians are determined to steal the limelight by unconventional behaviour. Silvio Berlusconi is no exception. His ‘peccadillos’ have got him into a lot of domestic hot water! But he seems to be unconcerned. He hosted the G8 conference with his characteristic aplomb though one wonders if he was following the real world issues closely! There was a lot on his mind!

Posted by Pancha chandra | Report as abusive

What the article says about the Italian press is 100% true.

This is not only about a prime minister who befriends minors or escorts, which in some countries is more than enough to make somebody resign.

He is also the person who approves laws such as Law N. 128, also known as the Alfano Law (Alfano is a lawyer, former Berlusconi’s personal secretary and now Minister of Justice) —> using the words of Antonio Di Pietro, which appeared in the International Herald Tribune a few days ago, this law has been designed “in order to ensure that he (Berlusconi)cannot be prosecuted on charges of having bribed a witness in return for the individual providing perjured testimony in two separate court cases.” Even Italian President Napolitano is trying to block this law deeming it as unconstitutional.

Obviously neither Italian newspapers nor Italian media cover Berlusconi’s scandals that much, because he owns the majority of them. This is very troubling and other Western countries should be worried to let such a man gain so much power in a nation where democracy is only nominal.

Posted by Elwwynn | Report as abusive