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Berlusconi’s Image-Protection Broadsides

Britain’s Times Online, as noted by Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, published an article today commenting on Berlusconi’s latest attempts to silence criticism.

Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi

The article, entitled ‘The chasm between Berlusconi and reality’, written by James Walston, a Professor of International Relations at the American University of Rome, does not speak highly of Italy’s Prime Minister’s current round of attacks on his perceived enemies.  The effect of the article is to further tarnish Italy’s already somewhat battered public image.

Those viewing Italy from outside-in may be thinking it’s a great pity Berlusconi does not use his phenomenal power more constructively, and, perhaps, a little less selfishly.  Alas when the prime minister of a country acts in a manner which tends to be viewed in a negative light, it is inevitable that such actions should also end up reflecting badly on the country which said prime minister leads.   Obviously the country in question in this instance is Italy, and those not familiar with this country will be finding Berlusconi’s approach to his problems odd, to say the least.

For people familiar with Italy and the way things are done here, Berlusconi’s comportment will come as no surprise what so ever.  Furthermore, Berlusconi’s strategy is certainly not being regarded as anything new here.  Au contraire,  Italy’s people would have been much more surprised if the guns on Berlusconi’s well armed battleship had not been brought to bear upon his opponents.

The Berlusconi battleship is firing broadsides to preserve that most precious of all of his assets – his image.

Image is Serious Business in Italy

Here in Italy, the land of designer clothes, overly ostentatious uniforms, suntans, and cosmetic surgery, image is everything, and criticism is reviled, be it direct or indirect by means of satire.  Hence the banning from Italian television of mere comedians who have ‘gone too far’.  Comics such as Beppe Grillo, for example.  Journalists often face a similar fate in Italy, and any Italian journalists who dare write articles which lead people, Italians, to question the behaviour of their lords and masters know that they risk putting their careers at risk.

As I’ve written previously, and some time ago – Italy’s politicians are sensitive.  Any and all criticism is considered a personal attack, nothing more, nothing less.  Politicians are in the public eye more than most, and, unsurprisingly, face more criticism than most.  Berlusconi is but one of Italy’s many politicians who seem to be incapable of taking negative comments as anything other than personal attacks, even to the point of claiming that such comments are ‘subversive’.

In Italian culture, which is littered with formal titles and visible expressions of power and authority, people take themselves, and their images, extremely seriously.  Perhaps, a little too seriously.

Wo betide someone, anyone, from questioning the actions of those who hold power in Italy.

Anything Goes

In Italy those in power will stop at nothing to protect their reputations, and Belusconi’s latest counter-offensive is a very clear example of the lengths to which such people will go.  Politicians have been manipulating Italy’s printed and television media for years, as indeed has the mafia, or at least that is the impression one obtains from Roberto Saviano‘s exposé of the camorra mafia in Naples – Gomorrah.

Times, though, are changing.

The Internet Factor

The advent of the internet and its ability to diffuse information on current affairs as they happen, must be causing certain headaches for Italian power-mongers.  While it is possible to influence Italy’s in-house media,  even Italy’s most powerful man, and an expert on media manipulation, is finding it difficult to control the dissemination of negative information throughout the world.

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At the behest of people like banned from Italian television comic Beppe Grillo, Italians are turning, albeit slowly, towards the internet as a source of more or less untainted information.  Journalists who have formerly had their hands tied by outraged Italian politicians, such as Marco Travaglio, are also using the internet to furnish the Italian people with alternative points of view.

It could be said that for the first time in Italian history, Italians now have access to information which may allow them to formulate more balanced opinions as to what is happening within their country.

Italian newspapers, such as La Repubblica, are ensuring that people in Italy are becoming aware of how Italy is viewed from the outside.  While some Italians may not care how foreigners see Italy, others will be sad to see that their country does not have a great reputation in the eyes of the world.

That Italian blogs are offering non-manipulated points of view, and Italian newspapers are publishing articles on how others view Italy, is scaring the Italian government.  A consequence of the fright is that Italy’s government, and politicians, has tried to ‘regulate’ and thus silence blogs and other sources of opinion and news.  The rule seems to be, if the information source cannot be manipulated, it must be gagged.  It was not only Berlusconi’s government which has tried to put a stop Italy’s alternative news media either – Prodi’s lot had a go too.

Part of Berlusconi’s current battle includes trying to bring major Italian newspaper La Repubblica to heel.

Update: Marco Travaglio to be Banished?

Travaglio is an interesting case in that he managed to re-appear on Italian television as a commentator on the RAI channel 2 political talk-show, Annozero, which is hosted by one Michele Santoro.  A report in La Repubblica dated 1 September indicates that attempts are being made to remove future editions, and thus Marco Travaglio, of the talk-show Annozero from Italy’s airwaves.  Travaglio has never been known for mincing his words with regard to Silvio Berlusconi –which is something which has not escaped Berlusconi’s attention.

The Outcome of Berlusconi’s Broadsides

What is happening in Italy now represents a clash between old and new.  Old media, and new media, if you like.  The outcome of this epic battle may well dictate the future of the media in Italy.

But if new media wins the day, will the victory make life in Italy any better?

Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think there is an Italian equivalent of the old saying ‘life’s too short’.  If there is, it’s not used much.


The Times Online, 31 August 2009: The chasm between Berlusconi and reality

La Repubblica, 31 August 2009:  Il Times: “Stavolta ha esagerato – E’ troppo anche per il suo ego” – The Times: This time he’s (Berlusconi) gone too far – It’s too much, even for his ego – in Italian

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