People, Courts Challenge Berlusconi

Days after protesters took to the streets in Rome and Barcelona against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his grip on Italian media outlets, the Italian courts have issued their own challenge to his authority.

Berlusconi and his government are much maligned in the European press, so much in fact, that the Prime Minister has sued Italian newspapers La Repubblica and L’Unitá for alleging he has used prostitutes. However, should it be shown that Berlusconi has violated the law (again), he will have to stand trial. Italian courts struck down a proposal to grant immunity to top government officials, including the Prime Minister, while they are in office.

The protests over the weekend were critical of Berlusconi’s control over Italian media, particularly television outlets.

Max Rumignani of the Federazione Nazionale della Stampa Italiana (National Federation of the Italian Press) led the Barcelona protests explaining that the 72 year-old billionaire Berlusconi privately owns three of the seven major television stations in Italy. In addition to this, three stations are controlled by the ruling government. Thus, the Prime Minister effectively controls six of the seven major television stations.

“The seventh station barely survives,” says Rumignani.  “Opposing Berlusconi is bad for business, especially the businesses who typically advertise on TV stations.”

Given that the European press is generally free, it’s surprising to learn that many Italian expatriates are privy to information their fellow countrymen are not. The Italians’ continued electoral support of Berlusconi has drawn the ire of the French newspaper La Libération and the Spanish El Pais.

These papers have made such crude generalizations about Italians (that they share the values of Berlusconi), that the Italian Ambassadors to France and Spain have appeared in op-ed columns in their respective host countries to defend the Italian people while being indirectly critical of the Prime Minister’s apparent values (teenage girls, power and wealth).

It is not clear, however, how the descendants of Machiavelli and Mussolini will overcome their modern Prince’s monopoly on information. Many may not be completely aware that he has one.

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