Page last updated at 18:33 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 19:33 UK

Berlusconi sues media for 'libel'

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Rome

Berlusconi in Rome, 7 Aug
Mr Berlusconi said earlier this month that he has nothing to hide

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is launching legal action against media outlets across Europe for their coverage of his private life.

Mr Berlusconi has been at the centre of a number of alleged scandals in the past few months.

His lawyers say he has been subjected to an intolerable campaign of slander and is now fighting back.

Mr Berlusconi has in his sights publications in Spain, France, Britain and here in Italy.

His lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, says they are suing for libel over a series of stories that has involved teenage models and paid escorts.

'Sign of weakness'

Mr Ghedini said among those being targeted were the French weekly Nouvel Observateur for publishing a story called "Sex, Power and Lies", and the Spanish newspaper El Pais, for showing photos of naked guests at Mr Berlusconi's villa in Sardinia.

Mr Ghedini would not say which British publications could face action, though Mr Berlusconi has accused fellow media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch, of mounting a personal attack on him via the British newspaper The Times, which Mr Murdoch controls.

Mr Ghedini said Mr Berlusconi expects to come in for harsh criticism like any other politician, but he said some papers, including La Repubblica, had run an intolerable campaign - which also discredited Italy - against the prime minister.

It is not clear if Mr Berlusconi is willing to go to these countries to give evidence in person. That seems unlikely.

And while it is not unprecedented for a head of government to mount libel cases while still in office, the scale and scope of Mr Berlusconi's intended response is rare.

Italy's opposition says Mr Berlusconi's attacks on the media are "a sign of fear and weakness".

But while Mr Berlusconi's influence over Italian media is such that he has been able to limit the impact of the allegations here, it does seem that the foreign press coverage may finally have rattled the Italian leader into action.

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