ROME (Reuters) – Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is working to galvanize his media empire behind his campaign to become Italy’s president this month, in a move that has revived dormant but unresolved concerns about conflicts of interest.
The 85-year-old billionaire, who has served as prime minister for four terms, is the official candidate for Italy’s centre-right coalition and controls three national television channels, a daily newspaper and several magazines.
Many commentators say Berlusconi’s background – he was convicted of tax fraud and set up “bunga bunga” sex parties – puts him far from the ideal candidate, and on paper he lacks the much needed broad parliamentary support.
However, regardless of these concerns and recent chronic health problems, Berlusconi launched a media campaign reminiscent of the ones that helped him win three national elections.
Political cartoons on world leaders
And the voting begins among more than a thousand parliamentarians and regional delegates on January 24, and he is trying to win the support of dozens of deputies and unaffiliated senators who may move him to the presidential palace.
Although he does not need the votes of the Italian public, Berlusconi hopes that creating a wave of public opinion behind his candidacy can help persuade lawmakers to support him.
“He wants to build momentum. It’s not much needed but he clearly thinks it can be useful,” said Daniel Albertazi, a professor of politics at Britain’s University of Surrey who has closely followed Berlusconi’s career.
For weeks, Berlusconi’s Mediaset TV channels have been touting his presidential ambitions, highlighting his qualities and achievements and ignoring flaws such as the ongoing trial for allegedly bribing witnesses in a legal case, in which he denies the charges.
On Thursday, his family’s newspaper, Il Giornale, ran a full-page advertisement titled “Who is Silvio Berlusconi … Who is better than him?”
A decades-old photo of the former prime minister and a list of 22 of his supposed characteristics and accomplishments featured.
Adjectives include being a “good and generous person,” “a friend to all, an enemy to none,” and a “self-made man, an example to all Italians.”
One of his listed accomplishments is “ending the Cold War”. Others, though imprecise on the facts, include “founding commercial television in Europe” and being president of “the club that has won the most in the history of world football”.
conflict of interest
Since entering politics in 1994, Berlusconi has been accused of using his own media to promote his political fortunes and using his political power to defend his media interests.
However, while in power, the center-left did not change the law to address the problem, perhaps fearing a backlash from Berlusconi’s business empire.
Modest legislation on conflicts of interest was approved by Berlusconi himself in 2004. Although this was widely considered inappropriate, it was never tightened.
“Everyone thought Berlusconi was out of the picture after 2011 and so the conflict of interest debate has faded,” said political analyst and political analyst Lorenzo Brigliasco.
“This is quite typical of the way Italian politics works, only considering an issue when there is an immediate visible emergency.”
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)
Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.