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Newspapers face legal action after reporting on prime minister's private life

EFJ condemns Berlusconi's media vendetta

(IFJ/IFEX) - 31 August 2009 - The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the regional group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi is putting press freedom to the sword by launching a legal vendetta against media at home and abroad for reporting on his troubled personal life.

"It's understandable that Prime Minister Berlusconi wants to keep his colourful personal life out of the headlines," said Aidan White, IFJ and EFJ General Secretary. "But he puts press freedom at risk by trying to use the law to intimidate journalists and to stifle media reporting."

The EFJ says that Berlusconi often used his power as both a media magnate and political leader to intimidate media and individual journalists, but this time he "has stepped over a line by trying to stifle embarrassing but legitimate journalism both at home and abroad."

On 28 August, Mr. Berlusconi sued the daily La Repubblica simply for having publicly asked him ten questions. At the same time, the daily Il Giornale owned by the Berlusconi family is attacking the Catholic paper Avvenire. Moreover, Mr. Berlusconi is suing French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, and reports say his lawyers are looking into the possibility of suing British papers - including the ones owned by his former "friend" Rupert Murdoch.

All of this follows intense media interest in his personal life including his divorce and controversy surrounding his relationships with young women. "What happened is incredible," said Franco Siddi, President of the IFJ affiliate Federazione Nazionale della Stampa Italiana (FNSI). "This complaint against La Repubblica and the attack on Avvenire are evidence of spectacular intimidation of media or journalists who ask questions, express opinions or even discuss the influence of Mr. Berlusconi's private life in politics. He should know that in a democracy there are limits to his power."

The EFJ says Berlusconi's onslaught against the press over his personal behaviour is unacceptable, in Italy or elsewhere. The attack on Avvenire, a respectable newspaper of the church, has added to public indignation over his actions, which many observers believe will damage his international reputation.

The EFJ is backing the FNSI in its demands for Berlusconi and his political allies to respect independent and free media in Italy.

"Journalists and media must stand firm in defence of the principles of press freedom and quality journalism," said White. "And particularly so when the threat comes from the most powerful politician in the land."

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