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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Berlusconi: Italy's virtual prime minister
Berlusconi
Berlusconi is Italy's biggest TV tycoon - and TV star too
By Joanna Robertson in Rome

As prime minister of Italy, the newly-elected Silvio Berlusconi will control over 90% of the country's television.

State television, RAI, now also under Mr Berlusconi's control, is the direct competitor to his own, very lucrative channels - so what will he do?


World famous for being terrible, Italian television does not quite deserve its reputation

Presumably, if he improves state TV, his considerable personal profits will immediately plunge.

In his last, brief, term as prime minister in 1994, Mr Berlusconi quickly ran into nasty conflict with RAI.

Upset by its coverage of the political opposition, he dismissed the board and director-general and replaced them with his own political allies and business associates.

It seems history might be repeating itself.

The day after this election victory, Gianfranco Fini, one of Mr Berlusconi's closest partners and leader of the post-fascist National Alliance suggested a swift 'clean sweep' at RAI.

Gossip buzzing around Rome suggests the National Alliance might even be "given" RAI 2 as its own channel, and various Berlusconi cronies have been rumoured for key posts.

Telly addicts

Italy is a TV nation. The telly is always switched on and recent statistics declare that each and every Italian spends at least four hours a day gazing at the small screen.

World famous for being terrible, Italian television does not quite deserve its reputation.

If you channel-surf at certain times of day you will ride a cresting wave of young beauties - all female - gyrating, waggling, smooching and grinning in spangly bikinis or less.


Mr Berlusconi has been seen and heard very frequently over the last week, but strictly on television and strictly pre-recorded

And yes, there are a great deal of dumb-question quiz shows, badly-dubbed American soap-operas, great helpings of horoscopes, cartoons, inaccurate weather-reports and poorly-produced news bulletins.

But... there are also quality programmes in there - including on Canale 5, a channel owned by Mr Berlusconi, which has by far the best political satire programme.

Video campaign

But on the day he won the Italian general elections, Silvio Berlusconi was nowhere to be seen.


Berlusconi's rags-to- riches life story is the all-Italian dream, the very get-rich-quick stuff that all those audience-grabbing quiz shows, and televised weekly lotteries, are made of

In fact, he had not been seen in public for well over a month.

The national news that evening carried press conference interviews with leaders of the defeated parties, as well as those of Mr Berlusconi's coalition partners.

But still no sign of the Prime Minister in waiting.

That was until later that evening, on a serious political discussion programme.

The studio audience and guests were dwarfed by an enormous video.

It showed a pre-recorded address by Silvio Berlusconi sitting in his sumptuous study within his private villa surrounded by antiques and works of art.

Live debate was punctuated with extracts from the giant-sized, videoed prime minister designate.

TV star

Mr Berlusconi's election campaign did not send him out on the road to talk directly to the people.

Instead, he used television and the internet, and produced a glossy magazine-format life story of himself, telling of his fairytale rise from cruise-ship crooner to multi-billionaire, packed with over 200 full-colour photos, and mailed it to every single voter in the country.

Francesco Rutelli and Silvio Berlusconi (on screen)
Berlusconi ran his campaign from behind video screens
His rags-to-riches story is the all-Italian dream, the very get-rich-quick stuff that all those audience-grabbing quiz shows, and televised weekly lotteries, are made of.

Mr Berlusconi has been seen and heard very frequently over the last week, but strictly on television and strictly pre-recorded.

The latest news is that he does not want to live in the Palazzo Chigi - the official residence of the prime minister - as it was not luxurious enough. Instead, he proposes to use his extravagant private apartment in Rome.

A multi-billionaire prime minister; big self-images on television; private, not public residences; likely political manouvering at RAI - far better than any American soap opera.

I, for one, will be switching on the telly to watch developments.

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See also:

15 May 01 | Europe
Berlusconi lays out big plans
14 May 01 | Europe
Temperatures rise in chaotic poll
11 May 01 | Media reports
'Life is not beautiful' if Berlusconi wins
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