Here we go again with yet another case of a head of state seeking to use the courts to curb uncomfortable press coverage. It is a popular tactic the world over – Charlie Haughey infamously relied on threats of libel action to stifle investigation of his private and financial affairs – and it is a game to which Silvio Berlusconi seems to devote himself with some alacrity, both at home and abroad. It gives a whole new meaning to globalisation. His latest forays are summarized by the TimesOnline (with added links):
Umberto Eco leads writers’ revolt against Silvio Berlusconi’s attempt to gag press
Richard Owen in Rome
Italy’s artistic and intellectual elite was in open revolt yesterday against Silvio Berlusconi’s moves to sue at least three newspapers at home and abroad. More than 120,000 people have signed an online petition defending press freedom.
Umberto Eco, perhaps the country’s leading writer, Dario Fo, the playwright, and Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorrah, the bestseller about the Naples Mafia, were among those signing the petition, started by La Repubblica. The paper is being sued for questioning the Prime Minister’s behaviour and private life.
Mr Eco said: “When someone has to intervene to defend freedom of the press it means that the society, and with it a great part of the press itself, is already sick.” He added that in robust democracies there was no need to defend press freedom “because it enters nobody’s mind to limit it”.
The story is also in The Financial Times and The Telegraph, and Forbes magazine has more detail about Berlusconi’s lawsuits (with added links):
Berlusconi’s Libel Lawsuits
Italian PM is suing some media companies he doesn’t own for reporting on his parties with young women.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who owns Mediaset, the country’s largest private broadcaster, is launching legal actions against media companies that he doesn’t own in Italy, Britain, France and Spain, for libel in their coverage of his private life, his lawyer said on Friday. …
Berlusconi’s lawyers in France have sued weekly Nouvel Observateur for a story headlined “Sex, Power and Lies” and Spain’s El Pais for publishing photos of naked guests at the premier’s Sardinian villa, the billionaire’s lawyers said. In Italy lawyers have sued left-leaning La Repubblica for repeating the Nouvel Observateur story and for defaming Berlusconi by repeating daily its “10 Questions” about his private life and political aspirations. …
La Repubblica has the full story of the petition (in Italian): Appello Repubblica, le adesioni firmano Benigni e Jovanotti; the petition is here (in Italian) and here (in English); the original 10 questions are here (in Italian) and here (in English), whilst 10 new questions are here (in Italian) and here (in English); and La Repubblica‘s website has an excellent and regularly updated page on the scandal in the international press. Le Nouvel Observateur has the full story of Berlusconi’s case against it (in French): Silvio Berlusconi va porter plainte contre le Nouvel Observateur. El Pais has the full story of Berlusconi’s case against it (in Spanish): Berlusconi denunciará a EL PAÍS por publicar fotos de sus fiestas.
Freedom of the press in Italy is in a sorry state, and Berlusconi’s three cases are simply the latest in a long line of such law suits instigated by him (not all have gone his way: last year, The Economist successfully defended a libel case taken by him against it). And even if these cases are successful at first instance, I’ve commented here on previous occasions that such cases are unlikely to survive scrutiny in the European Court of Human Rights.