Italy: notes on a scandal

Antonio Zappadu, the paparazzo who famously snapped Silvio Berlusconi’s topless party guests, told La Repubblica today that he plans to sell a further set of photographs to the foreign media.

When news of Zappadu’s pictures of Berlusconi’s private parties first broke, the prime minister’s lawyer moved to have them confiscated. Zappadu was been accused of blackmail, and allegedly attempted to sell the photographs to Berlusconi’s magazine Panorama. The pictures then appeared in Spanish newspaper El Pais, allowing Italian newspapers to publish them by reproducing the pages of the Spanish newspaper. Berlusconi is now suing El Pais and La Repubblica for invading his privacy. Zappadu is also waiting to hear if he will face prosecution.

Media coverage has been surprisingly detailed by Italian standards. La Repubblica, owned by Berlusconi’s arch business rival Carlo De Benedetti, had already been running a five-month campaign in which Zappadu’s party pictures were just the latest ammunition.

So how did the different papers deal with the story?

Il Giornale, Libero (both right-wing, Il Giornale is owned by Berlusconi’s brother)
Il Giornale is oriented towards a Catholic readership. It reported the scandal and did not use it as a pretext to attack the centre-left, as it usually does. The newspaper downplayed Berlusconi’s use of the presidential plane to bring his guests to the party.

Libero highlighted the invasion of privacy. It raised the question of security (Zappadu’s camera “could have been a rifle”) and portrayed the party as an innocent gathering.

“Mr Berlusconi, talking about the seizure of the shots picturing last year New Year’s Eve party, said that with this story we’ve at last ‘hit the bottom, thanks to this outright intrusion in my private life. Nobody should tolerate an unauthorised photographer peeping in your house through the windows. I saw the pictures: they are completely useless, so much so that Panorama would not have bought them anyway, not even for 10 000 euros’.”

Avvenire (Vatican newspaper)
Avvenire did not openly back La Repubblica’s campaign. It reported the story correctly but gave it little space. Berlusconi’s coalition remains a key supporter of the Vatican’s interests.

La Repubblica (the main newspaper of press media group Espresso, owned by Carlo De Benedetti, close to the centre-left PD party)
La Repubblica a moderate centre-left newspaper, but maintains a hard line on Berlusconi. It started and promoted the “10 questions to Mr Berlusconi” campaign: This was triggered by revelations about Berlusconi’s friendship with Noemi Letizia. The newspaper published a letter from Berlusconi’s wife denouncing her husband.

Mr Berlusconi, being asked by a La Repubblica journalist about the famous ten questions, said: “I will not answer Repubblica. I already answered and they told me I was sick. I told them: it’s you who are sick, sick from envy and political hate.” Later he added: “It is a private matter, so the seizure is not an attack on freedom of the press; don’t you see yourselves as ridiculous when claiming that in Italy there is no freedom of the press? To joke about it is just fine, but when it becomes a serious allegation and it is picked up by foreign newspapers it hurts Italy and its citizens.”

Il Corriere della Sera (Italy’s largest newspaper, RCS Group, pro-government)
Il Corriere della Sera downplayed the Noemi scandal, but widely reported the photographs, especially regarding the illegal private use of state assets (i.e. the presidential plane). It published a picture of a young Flamenco dancer getting off the plane.
“this time Lodo Alfano [law giving Berlusconi immunity from prosecution] won’t work”. In fact the “Lodo” protects Berlusconi from any legal action concerning his activities as a private citizen, not as a prime minister.

Il Sole 24 Ore (the Financial Times of Italy)
Il Sole 24 Ore covered the scandal soberly, its usual style.

“Antonio di Pietro, leader of Italia dei Valori states that to use the presidential plane (with military personnel) to bring singers, dancers and soubrettes to his private residence to spice up his parties is definitely a crime.”

“PD [centre-left party] leader Franceschini says: ‘The last Prodi government had passed very stiff rules regarding state flights.’ According to the Espresso magazine, in less than one year [the expenses for state flights] more than tripled, to a total cost of 60 million euros [last August, Berlusconi’s government changed those rules, making them much less strict].”

La Stampa (Turin-based newspaper, voice of the Fiat group, always tied to the government)
Alongside Il Corriere della Sera, La Stampa held back criticism of Berlusconi’s use of his plane.