Berlusconi’s Empire – Part 1

It looks like Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is losing it. And by ‘it’ I mean both his poise and the confidence of his voters, given the reports of a large chunk of his electorate not wanting to show up in the upcoming regional elections on March 28 and 29.

In the next few days I will be talking about the latest scandal involving Berlusconi and how the media is starting to unveil a network of influence that the prime minister holds over some of the most important and vital elements of Italian democracy.

In the past several days Italian newspapers such as Il Fatto Quotidiano and Repubblica have been publishing a series of phone conversations intercepted by Italian investigators looking into alleged pressures the prime minister would have exercised over:

    Augusto Minzolini, the editor of TG1, Italy’s most popular TV News program on public television (meaning it is paid for by Italian taxpayers);
    Mauro Masi, general manager of Rai, Italy’s public television;
    Giancarlo Innocenzi, a member of Agcom, the agency that oversees Italian television and makes sure its contents stay within the parameters of law.

The contents of those phone calls are very straightforward. There isn’t much to be interpreted.

Berlusconi calls Innocenzi and is furious because the Agcom authority has not been able to shut down ‘Annozero,’ a political analysis show conducted by journalist Michele Santoro aired every Thursday on RaiDue (the second public channel). Santoro, in Berlusconi’s view, had to be stopped because of three different shows involving three judicial problems in which the prime minister is involved.

From Il Fatto Quotidiano (in this excerpt, Berlusconi is mad that ‘Annozero’ hasn’t been blocked and that Santoro will be able to talk about David Mills, the English lawyer sentenced in the first degree to 4 years and 6 months of prison for false testimony after allegedly accepting $600,000 in bribes from Berlusconi to lie during two trials involving Italy’s head of government. His case was then thrown out by the appeals court because Italian law (introduced by Berlusconi) does not allow too much time to lapse between an alleged crime and the trial):

“On the morning of December 3, 12 hours before the airing of ‘Annozero’ on the Mills case, Silvio Berlusconi makes a call. The owner’s voice urges his disobedient employee: “So you’re not doing anything?” Innocenzi stutters something and then Berlusconi loses it: “I need to have an agency that knows everything. And this guy is going to be aired and you don’t do any fucking thing?” This is the moment when Berlusconi puts all the weight of his power over the Authority (Agcom): “You’re disgusting, you’re not an Authority, you’re a joke. Tell the president [of Agcom] on my behalf that he should be ashamed of himself for being paid for what he’s doing. You should all quit right away.””

I’ll be posting more tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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