ROME - Premier Silvio Berlusconi has brought a one million euro law suit against the newpaper La Repubblica for defamation.For three months now the Italian daily has relentlessly published a daily list of ten questions for which the newspaper demands answers concerning the Premier's private affairs. These alleged affairs went onto the public record when the Premier's estranged wife, Veronica Lario, wrote an open letter accusing her husband of having inappropriate relations with minors and of suffering from undefined physical problems. Last Friday Mr. Berlusconi's personal lawyer, Niccolo' Ghedini, a member of Parliament for the Partito della Liberta', announced he will bring defamation suits against selected foreign publications if he can "verify if there is the possibility to bring civil actions against those who went beyond the normal right to report events."
Understanding how that role works under Mr. Berlusconi, who owns outright three national networks and appoints the directors of the other three, of a total of seven, may be the most important lesson to be drawn from this tawdry affair.
His air-tight control over TV means that the scandals were mentioned in passing or not at all on six of seven networks. The brainwashing mentioned by Professor Volpato was unnecessary, for the news was pre-rinsed for the precise audience which keeps him in power, an audience composed especially of the elderly living in the depressed South. The medium not only is the message, but determines who receives the message.
Interestingly, Italians who defend Mr. Berlusconi say that his critics should pay less attention to "gossip" and more to the good things he has done for Italy, such as resolving the economic crisis--a claim he has made repeatedly on TV. He has not resolved the economic crisis, of course--no one has--but since he says he has, the claim becomes its own truth despite grim statistics to the contrary. One small example: 29% fewer jobs offered to the university graduates of 2009 over 2008.
Manipulation of the news creates its own truth, and this is a danger for democracy.