Berlusconi and Press Freedom, Petition Edition

La Repubblica, Italy’s second-largest newspaper, was sued for defamation earlier this summer by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for repeatedly publishing a list of ten questions that Berlusconi has refused to answer about “consorting with teenage girls, naked poolside parties and being caught on tape telling a prostitute to wait for him in ‘Putin’s bed’ while he showers,” as the New York Times summed up Berlusconi’s scandals earlier this month.

“This is the first time in the memory of a free country that a newspaper has been taken to court for simply asking questions,” La Repubblica’s’s editor, Ezio Mauro responded at the time.

Berlusconi, as The Kicker pointed out back in August, is also a media mogul whose empire includes nearly half of Italy’s television channels, the nation’s most popular news magazine, a publishing house and the country’s leading advertising and publicity agency. His brother also owns the country’s prominent right-leaning newspaper, Il Giornale.

In a continuation of Berlusconi’s newspaper wars, a week after he announced his lawsuit against La Repubblica, the editor of Catholic Church-owned newspaper, Avvenire, resigned from his post after the Berlusconi-affiliated Il Giornale attacked him as “a homosexual known to the Italian secret services,” in response to Avvenire’s condemnation of Berlusconi’s non-Church sanctioned extracurricular activities.

Now, La Repubblica is circulating a petition to defend press freedom in Italy from Berlusconi’s “attempts at silencing the free press, at benumbing public opinion, at removing us from the international information scene and ultimately at making our Country the exception to the rule of Democracy.”

The paper currently has about 420,000 signatures and hopes to reach 500,000 signatures by Oct. 3, in time for a public demonstration in Rome.

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Alexandra Fenwick is an assistant editor at CJR.