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Adventures in Paranoia- Berlusconi Sues Reality

by de Gondi Mon Aug 31st, 2009 at 07:54:16 AM EST

Silvio Berlusconi has sued la Repubblica for having mounted a defamatory campaign against his person. The lawsuit focuses on the 10 + 10 questions that la Repubblica publishes daily for the past two months, alleging that they are rhetorical questions designed to induce false impressions of guilt in the reader. Berlusconi declares that the entire campaign is based on falsehoods, a claim that can easily be discounted by simply reading the twenty questions- or reading the foreign press.

The initiative has brought nearly unanimous outrage, often colourfully ironic, by opposition and civic leaders. A petition by three of Italy's most prominent jurists stigmatizes the action as a grave attack on the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They further call attention to the fact that Berlusconi's suit is being ignored by Italy's media and regret that lawyers and judges would have ever gone to such lengths to give a legal veneer to a blatantly arbitrary act.   The petition now on line has gathered well over 16000 signatures in hardly three hours.

Feel free to adhere.

from the diaries with minor edit - Nomad

The initiative has brought nearly unanimous outrage, often colourfully ironic, by opposition and civic leaders. A petition by three of Italy's most prominent jurists stigmatizes the action as a grave attack on the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They further call attention to the fact that Berlusconi's suit is being ignored by Italy's media and regret that lawyers and judges would have ever gone to such lengths to give a legal veneer to a blatantly arbitrary act.   The petition now on line has gathered well over 16000 signatures in hardly three hours.

Feel free to adhere.

Alan Rusbridger, director of The Guardian, reacted by pointing out that newspapers exist to ask questions and that similar action by a prime minister elsewhere would be unimaginable. He hoped that newspapers throughout the world would follow this new event with great attention.

Matters today are not going too well on the Vatican front for Mr. Berlusconi. Silvio had sought to organize a media event in which he would pass under a door in the cathedral of Aquila today, the 29th, so as to receive plenary indulgence for his conduct. (See John Hooper in The Guardian, "Indulging Berlusconi".) The picture opportunity would also have spared him from bluntly admitting misconduct or actually having "sinned" according to Catholic creed. His gossip magazine spread was programmed to include a dinner with the powerful Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcissio Bertone.

Apparently Berlusconi's scarce esteem for the critical faculties of Catholics was not appreciated by the Vatican which cancelled the dinner. After all, it was the first time an Italian Council President had deigned to attend the event, usually reserved for local authorities.  The government reacted by delegating representation to Gianni Letta, Berlusconi's frockless Richelieu. A dispatch added that the decision had been made "to avoid manipulation" presumably by malicious and envious parties- a classic remark by a consummate manipulator.

Tension between the Vatican and the government is further exasperated by the Italian bishops' press campaign against Berlusconi's behaviour. Berlusconi's house organ, Il Giornale, reacted by launching a brutal attack on the Vatican paper, L'Avvenire, asserting that the Director Dino Boffo has skeletons in his closet. In tune with Berlusconi's drive to totally muffle what remains of the free press, radical pasdarans have been appointed to key positions these past months. The new director of Il Giornale, Vittorio Feltri, is renowned for his viciousness, but giving him free reign may blow up in Silvio's hands- just as his ill-conceived "plenary indulgence" scam and his ridiculous lawsuit.


What is important in this case is the media hype generated by Ghedini's PR machine. Berlusconi systematically intimidates prominent reporters and major newspapers with lawsuits for two primary reasons. First, to trumpet his action on stage so as to induce the spectator into believing that Berlusconi is being unjustly persecuted. The format of the news event consists of brisk combative statements by authoritative-looking males and footage of heroic men quickly walking through doors, looking terribly serious. The message transmitted is one of "righting wrongs" by an underdog selflessly devoted to the cause of his just society.

Second, the reporters and writers- David Lane and Alexander Stille, for example- are forced to dedicate time and money to defend themselves to the point of wishing to never have broached the subject (David Lane.)

Berlusconi has lost every single case, most notably against the Financial Times (David Lane) and Stille by an interposed Previti.

When Berlusconi loses the case, the event is simply not covered by the media in Italy.

Members of Berlusconi's entourage have won cases on minor points of little significance, such as Ghedini against Ferruccio de Bortoli for having called him a "two-bit" lawyer (which effectively got him stuck with the apt definition), or Cesare Previti's once-in-a-lifetime win against Marco Travaglio.

By taking on the international press, Berlusconi has taken a dangerous step. While in Italy media coverage will be what we expect, it's unlikely he will get anywhere abroad. Prominent press figures throughout Europe have defined Berlusconi's gambit in no uncertain terms.

La Repubblica has put up their articles and editorials in English concerning the affair this evening.

Director Ezio Mauro's editorial:

This is the first time that, in the memory of a free country, a politician takes a lawsuit because of questions that were asked of him. It is a measure of the difficulties and fears that fill the summer of the most powerful man in Italy. The matter is simple: Because he is incapable of telling the truth about the "political junk" created with his own hands and which has surrounded him for months, the Head of the Government is asking the Bench to block verification of the truth, which brought about those unanswered questions; thus impeding the freedom of investigative journalistic activity.

At this turn there is intolerance for any control, any criticism, any investigative journalistic space that strays from the owner's domain or from the intimidation of a power that is considered absolute and untouchable. Through his judicial act against La Repubblica, Berlusconi wishes to lash out at and prevent the quotations in Italy of the enquiries from foreign newspapers as well, such that the country will remain clouded and under control. Everyone sees the weakness of a power that fears questions and who thinks that it is enough to keep fellow citizens in the dark and get away with it.

An in depth rebuttal by veteran reporter Giuseppe D'Avanzo is well worth reading, especially his concluding graph (difficult to transcribe from the pdf file.)

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Aug 28th, 2009 at 05:39:46 PM EST
The appeal launched this afternoon by three venerable jurists is now over quota 30,000.

An English version is now on line:

The libel action against "Repubblica" is the last of a long list of attacks against this daily which can only be seen as attempts at silencing the free press, at benumbing public opinion, at removing us from the international information scene and ultimately at making our Country the exception to the rule of Democracy.

The questions addressed to our Prime Minister are real questions that have prompted people's interest not only in Italy but also in the media across the world. If they are considered to be "rhetorical" questions that suggest answers that displease the person to whom they are addressed, then there is only one and very easy way of responding: the reaction should certainly not be that of silencing the people who ask those questions.

The response instead is that of intimidating those who exercise the right and duty of "seeking, receiving and imparting information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers", as stated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved by the Assembly of Nations when memory was still very much alive of the way information degenerated into propaganda under the illiberal and antidemocratic regimes of the 20th century.

What is astonishing and worrying is that not only are these initiatives not unanimously stigmatized, but they are not even reported by the media, and that furthermore there are jurists who are even willing to give them legal form, utterly dismissing the harm this will cause to the very seriousness and credibility of the Law.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Aug 28th, 2009 at 05:46:19 PM EST
but wouldn't the petition carry more weight with a multitude of non-Italian signatures?

And to get that, it would help if they would allow actually enable signing on the English version of the petition.

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence.

by marco on Sun Aug 30th, 2009 at 06:38:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I agree. For anyone who wishes to sign the petition go to the Italian version.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sun Aug 30th, 2009 at 07:31:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Now over 89.000 signatures.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Aug 30th, 2009 at 11:27:03 AM EST
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I can't help feeling that this will end in tears. It's one thing to take on local media, the majority of which you already own - it's another to take on international media which you do not.

Propaganda only works when you control most of the channels of communication.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Aug 28th, 2009 at 07:42:35 PM EST
Berlusconi is counting on the saturation factor abroad, and biding his time. Mass distraction will do the rest.

I expect a very hot autumn in parliament where Berlusconi will seek to subjugate the judiciary branch and severely limit investigative instruments against organized crime and corruption. Through his wiretap laws he intends to muzzle the press with sanctions and prison for any news source that publishes information on investigations of any sort.

The popular government meme of the week is that Berlusconi will go down in history as the man who defeated the mafias. Di Pietro replied that Berlusconi shouldn't spit in the plate he eats in. Berlusconi then menaced to sue Di Pietro. Di Pietro declared that he is very much looking forward to it: a lawsuit would force Berlusconi to come forth on all his mafia ties in court.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Aug 29th, 2009 at 02:22:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The brightest spot in this sorry spectacle must be that of the conservative Berlusconi government at war with the Vatican!  Seems like an unalloyed good regardless of the outcome.  The next brightest spot has to be the increasing tension between the needs of PR and B's own needs with respect to his apparent senile satyriasis for which he seeks satisfaction and relief in the underage Italian nubility. This would seem to make him increasingly vulnerable to self destructive outbursts and actions.  "Whom the Gods would destroy..."

What, if any, is the coverage in Italy by TV signals not originating from Italy?  Saturday Night Live style skits in Italian from southern Switzerland or Austria might really set the old boy off.  Any prospect?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 28th, 2009 at 11:02:56 PM EST
The RAI 3 channel broadcasts some interesting programs. It is an Indian reservation that owes its existence to accords made back in 1975 that allowed the left to have its own TV. It also has the function of proving that Italy is a democratic free society. Despite that, it is constantly under assault by the majority for its programs. RAI 3 does have some success as audience but is by no means on par with the strategic media outlets solidly in the hands of the rightwing. The constant pressure forces RAI 3 to very prudent in broadcasting news or resorting to satire. RAI 3 is accostumed to preventive censorship.

It is likely that RAI 3 will lose its independance in the next month. The government will likely appoint its own henchmen to key positions there as it has done this summer with all other strategic news outlets already firmly controlled.

In the past months the government has taken action through ad hominem laws and the cancellation of contracts against Murdoch's SKY network, ironically the only effectively independant TV channel in Italy. Murdoch never had a policy line that contrasted with the general brainless zeitgeist that characterizes the news medias controlled by Berlusconi. Despite its middle grounds policy Berlusconi has strongly criticized it and has recently launched the preposterous idea that much of his own sex scandal is a Rupert conspiracy.

There have been broadcasts from abroad in the past such as from Capodistria or Monte Carlo but these channels have never had effective shares. Further, Berlusconi could easily silence a channel not to his liking even if it were abroad, as he did throughout Italy. Berlusconi is an international entrepreneur with solid political and business relations throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. Italy is simply his feifdom.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Aug 29th, 2009 at 02:09:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
at least about Capodistria/Koper. If there's anything that characterises my countrymen on the coast, it is that they are very proud of the antifascist struggle before and during the Second World War and probably wouldn't take kindly to Berlusconi's interference.

The quality of the Capodistria broadcasts themselves, however, is a subject for another time.  

Iuris praecepta sunt haec: Honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere. - Ulpian, Digestae

by Titus on Wed Sep 2nd, 2009 at 07:32:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(... but what about the countrywomen's half?)  (;

(<Well, I'll be darned> Spellcheck discriminates  between 'countrymen'  and 'countrywomen'.  </damm>)

(Since I flunked seven years of Latin, through high school in my day, ---which ...prevented me from becoming the first catholic priestess of the 20th century---  would you mind translating your sig?)

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Wed Sep 2nd, 2009 at 02:17:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To live honestly, harming no one, giving each his own. - Ulpian

Iuris praecepta sunt haec: Honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere. - Ulpian, Digestae
by Titus on Thu Sep 3rd, 2009 at 04:56:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Berlusconi Will Sue Nouvel Observateur and El Pais (Update1) - Bloomberg.com
Berlusconi Will Sue Nouvel Observateur and El Pais (Update1)

By Caroline Binham

Aug. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi plans to sue the French weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur and Promotora de Informaciones SA's El Pais newspaper in Spain over coverage of his private life.

Berlusconi also has instructed a law firm in London to research whether any articles carried in the British press were libelous, Niccolo Ghedini, Berlusconi's lawyer, said in a telephone interview today. Italy's La Repubblica newspaper said yesterday that it was being sued for libel by Berlusconi.

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence.
by marco on Sat Aug 29th, 2009 at 03:45:46 PM EST
Whereas in Italy Berlusconi has filed a libel suit against la Repubblica, as of now he has announced he will sue abroad. As in a previous comment this is a media tactic to induce sympathy in spectators. The spectator, either favourably disposed or mentally lazy, will see the news byte as reinforcing a cue that Berlusconi is a victim seeking redress. The mere fact that he is going to file a lawsuit implies that he is the wronged party.

I do not know if laws in Spain or France will allow him to file a complaint. In London he may have more luck as interpretation is quite broad there, plus, if I'm not wrong, the burden of proof lies with the accused, as a similar case shows (Perle vs. Hersh):

Put Up or Shut Up Richard Perle

I double-dare him to sue Seymour Hersh.

By Jack Shafer
Posted Thursday, March 13, 2003, at 6:38 PM ET

"I'm gonna punch you in the nose" is a serious threat. "I'm gonna punch you in the nose tomorrow ... or the day after" carries much less urgency. But the stipulative warning "I'm gonna punch you in the nose next week in England, where I'm looking to hire a professional nose-puncher to inflict the punishment" is the sort of statement only a grandstanding pantywaist would make.

A grandstanding pantywaist like Richard N. Perle.


While we're on the subject of serious, it bears examining why Perle would take his libel lawsuit to England. Is it because Perle is English? No. Because Hersh is? No. Because The New Yorker is published there? No. He's venue-shopping in England because it's easier to win a libel case there than it is here, which he explains in the Sun. As a public figure and government official, Perle would be laughed out of court in the United States. If he got a settlement in the U.K., he could raid the substantial British assets of the The New Yorker's parent company, Condé Nast.

British libel law, of course, is completely un-American! "While both American and British law preclude liability if the statement is true, American law places the burden of proof on the plaintiff to show the statement is false," write media lawyers Laura R. Handman and Robert D. Balin of Davis Wright Tremaine. "By contrast, British law imposes the burden on defendant to prove truth or 'justification' and permits aggravated damages if defendant tries but fails." Maybe Hersh should be grateful Perle isn't filing where Sharia is observed.

Will Perle file against Hersh, or is he just shooting his mouth off? Handman and Balin write that British courts have begun "turning back" blatant cases of venue-shopping by litigants who think the British courts are a soft touch. The two judges who preside over libel cases in London recently rejected a pair of libel suits against Forbes because no discussion of the litigants' English interests could be found in the articles. File your case in the United States, the judges essentially said. They have a wonderful legal system.

The judge will probably tell Perle the same thing. So, go ahead and sue, Mr. Perle, and make sure an expensive barrister handles your case. The New Yorker has money to burn, and I'd love to see you lose yours.

The conclusion is that- as far as the States are concerned- Berlusconi wouldn't have a chance in hell.

I do hope he gets to take his case to court in England, Spain and France because when he loses his cases- and he will, just as he has always lost in Italy- the local press will frontpage the news. In Italy it will never be mentioned in the press he controls.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Aug 29th, 2009 at 05:18:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
let's hope this will lead to the heat levels needed to melt the wax in his wings.

these guys always over-reach, it's in their DNA.

solipsis, meet reality...

the irony of the Vat and Murdoch both lining up agin him is delicious indeed.

now only the mob remains to betray his cavalier ass.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Aug 30th, 2009 at 03:37:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unfortunately the full complaint has not been published. Berlusconi's argument seems to revolve around a statement in la Nouvel Obs concerning the "Russian mafia" which sounds more like a snide comment rather than a fact. L'avvocaticchio Ghedini is treating it as a factual accusation which was taken up as quotes in Italian papers.

Whether Berlusconi is in cahots or not with the "Russian mafia" is hardly the point- It's nigh impossible to prove (especially in Italy). Of course, "Russian mafia" could just as well be interpreted figuratively as Putin, or, more likely, whoever supplies the Eastern European jailbait for Silvio's parties. (There is testimony to the presence of Eastern European girls at his midnight flings.) Since Eastern European white slavery rackets are in the hands of organized crime, this may explain Nouvel Obs' remark.

On this Ghedini and Berlusconi may be playing fast and dangerously. Nouvel Obs may actually have something to back up their remark other than the testimonies in Italy, which for now are not considered criminally relevant.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Aug 29th, 2009 at 05:36:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Vatican Slights Berlusconi Over Newspaper Attack | The Wall Street Journal
Prime Minister Misses Out on Annual 'Pardoning of Sins' Service as Holy See Withdraws Its Dinner Invitation

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi received a rare public snub from the Vatican after a newspaper owned by his brother criticized an influential Roman Catholic newspaper editor for questioning the premier's private life.

Mr. Berlusconi had planned to attend a religious service and dine with the Vatican's No. 2 official when the Holy See issued a statement Friday afternoon withdrawing the dinner invitation. The statement also said that Mr. Berlusconi, whose personal life has been under scrutiny for months, wouldn't attend the service, known as the "Perdonanza," or the annual day of pardon for sins.

A senior Vatican official said the snub came in response to a report published Friday in Il Giornale, a national newspaper owned by Mr. Berluconi's brother Paolo. "It was a very strong attack," the Vatican official said. <...>

Mr. Berlusconi's plans to attend the Perdonanza was seen by the Italian public as a gesture in the direction of atonement.

In its statement, the Vatican said Mr. Berlusconi's dinner plans with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who officiated Friday's service, was called off partly out of concern that the meeting could be "exploited." The Vatican official said the Holy See didn't want to be viewed as giving a "benediction" to Mr. Berlusconi's political positions and his personal life.

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence.
by marco on Mon Aug 31st, 2009 at 12:24:55 PM EST
I found this article noteworthy as it departs from WSJ's previous attitude of "straight reporting" without getting into the story.

Of course events in Italy are moving fast. The Vatican has adopted a harsher position day by day. The document concerning the accusations against Boffo has turned out to be false- all of this is the subject of my next diary which I am completing in light of on-going events.

I strongly recommend James Walston's article in today's Times. Walston is a professor at the American University in Rome and knows his subject well.


Since returning to power last year, Mr Berlusconi has given himself immunity from criminal prosecution while in office and countered President Napolitano's powers to check the constitutionality of Bills. The institutional opposition, like the courts and President, have been trussed like oven-ready capons and most of the media is directly or indirectly controlled by the Prime Minister. If anyone dares to squeak, they are threatened directly.

His foreign policy claims move between the comical and the megalomaniacal. His impatience and sense of omnipotence in business carried over to his political life, which now allows him to ignore reality and to create his own.

Today, though, he acts like a man out of control. Even though he is one of the richest men and among the world's political leaders, he seems disappointed and frustrated. No amount of wealth can make him young or handsome, force the Vatican to accept him, give him the influence of Mr Brown, Mr Sarkozy or Ms Merkel, or even bestow on him the status of established wealth like the Agnellis. So he overreacts against any criticism.

But the gap between his reality and everyone else's is widening. Various medications may take their toll and his happy smirk can no longer hide the anger that boils to the surface when he is crossed.

The minors and the prostitutes have cracked the image but, if he falls, it will be because no amount of spin can disguise his economic mismanagement. The unemployment and hardship that Italians are likely to face this autumn, for which he is largely responsible, will be the reality check that counts.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Mon Aug 31st, 2009 at 12:46:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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