Berlusconi's grip on media criticised


VENICE – Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s grip on television in Italy is at the heart of Videocracy, a new documentary examining how his media empire has shaped information and culture in the country over 30 years.

Screened at the Venice film festival this week, Videocracy mixes images of scantily clad showgirls – a regular feature on Italian television – with news reels of Berlusconi’s public appearances and interviews with real or aspiring TV celebrities.

For director Erik Gandini, who was born and brought up in Italy but now lives in Sweden, the message is clear: Italy is now a “TV-republic”, embodied by Berlusconi, where entertainment and politics are intertwined.

One example of that, he says, is that a former showgirl is now Berlusconi’s equal opportunities minister. The documentary points to the pervasiveness of television in Italian life, which makes it in the eyes of many – particularly young people – a launching pad to instant fame and money.

“You get a picture of a generation which is . . . obsessed by brands, by their own appearance, not interested in politics so much, nor in the world,” Mr Gandini said. With 80 per cent of Italians using their TV sets as their prime source of information, the power of television is vastly increased by the control the prime minister exerts over it, says Gandini.

“People don’t read many newspapers. Television is the media which has the biggest impact . . . that’s why Berlusconi is so strong,” he said.

Berlusconi’s Mediaset empire owns the three largest private TV networks in the country. – (Reuters)