A Berlusconi family newspaper has advised Italians to stop paying their television license fee to punish Italy’s public television service for broadcasting an interview with an escort who allegedly spent the night with the prime minister.
Patrizia D’Addario’s first appearance on Italian TV, broadcast last Thursday by the current events show Annozero, drew 5.6 million viewers, but triggered the ire of Economic Development Minister Claudio Scajola, who threatened sanctions against the RAI network for broadcasting “trash, shame, infamy and dirt.”
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has denied paying for sex.
The Italian opposition leader Dario Franceschini called the threats against RAI an act of “censorship” and “intimidation.”
Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by Berlusconi’s brother, Paolo, launched a front-page campaign against the license fee on Sunday, as did Libero, a pro-Berlusconi newspaper.
“If RAI is a public service it should be at the service of the public that pays the license fee and not at the service of haughty preachers whose toxic stump speeches twist information for political ends,” wrote Il Giornale’s editor, Vittorio Feltri, on Monday.
The newspaper printed a sample letter to send to the tax office to request removal from the register of license payers. The consequence, the paper stated, could be a visit from tax inspectors to see if a TV was on.
“Reading between the lines, it appears Il Giornale does not think anyone will actually show up to check,” said Gianluca Di Ascenzo, vice-president of the consumer group Codacons.
License fee evasion already runs at 30 percent in Italy.
Berlusconi singled out Feltri for applause at a political rally on Sunday, during which Berlusconi again found time to produce another joke about US President Barack Obama’s “tan.”
He told supporters he was bringing greetings from the G20 meeting in the US from “What’s his name? Some tanned guy. Ah, Barack Obama!”
“You won’t believe it, but two of them went to the beach, because the wife is also tanned,” he said.
His previous remarks about the US president’s skin color appear not to have gone down well with Michelle Obama. In photographs taken at last week’s G20 summit in Pittsburgh, she was seen greeting many leaders with a kiss, but holding out a formal hand when the time came to say hello to Berlusconi.
However, Berlusconi delivered a backhanded compliment to the US president when referring to Obama’s use of a teleprompter in speeches: “He’s not reckless, like those of us who say what comes to mind. We all asked ourselves: ‘Does he know what he’s doing, or is he just someone who knows how to read well?’”
“But he’s all there, in a big way, and that should make us all happy and satisfied because we need the greatest democracy to be in trustworthy,” Berlusconi said.