While the eyes of Italian commentators have been so far caught by the alleged decline of Silvio Berlusconi’s regime, no one has yet turned the spotlight on the future of his business empire, Mediaset/Fininvest. Unfortunately, it is a rather crucial issue for the country. Many questions need to be asked in this matter. Above all the following: who’s going to support Mr Berlusconi’s well-oiled propaganda machinery when its former master is no more? Gianfranco Fini, long considered his delfino, has indeed vigorously chosen the treacherous seas of open battle; he may, one day, win hearts and minds of the Italian centre-right electorate, but it seems hard to see Mediaset supporting him in the process. So what? The bitter reality is that Silvio Berlusconi is a fighter and a monarch. He will never give up power for the common good. Nevertheless, that day may happen sooner than he wishes for. If it does, Italy must be ready to protect the public interest and eventually address his legacy.
The power the man concentrated in his hands is simply staggering. Mediaset, which encompasses three national TV channels, is the largest commercial broadcaster in the country; then there’s Endemol, the production company that created Big Brother; Medusa, Italy’s largest films distributor; Mondadori, Italian biggest publishing company. But the Italian PM’s influence is not reduced to the media sphere. Berlusconi, directly or indirectly, controls Publitalia, Italy’s biggest advertising company, Mediolanum, national insurer and investment funds, and Banca Mediolanum, a commercial bank. Last but not least, he poses – through his holding Fininvest – 2% of Mediobanca, Italy’s third financial institution by capitalisation as well as crucial hub of Italian business barons. In a sentence: the man owns the country. It is therefore easy to understand why Berlusconi would be able to pull the strings without necessarily being the forward striker of the team. This brings us back to the original dilemma. What will his empire do if he loses the political high ground for good? Berlusconi can count on at least 20% of die-hard voters that seem to be ready to follow him no matter what. Who will then fill the void? Will Mediaset/Fininvest’s weapons be offered to Umberto Bossi Northern League, currently his strongest ally? No one knows. But if Fini and the left block are really keen on winning the war against Berlusconi while, incidentally, doing some good to the nation, they have none but one choice: to reform the public broadcaster RAI – BBC’s governance is a suitable place to start – reducing therefore political parties interferences as much as possible and, at the same time, to introduce a long needed piece of legislation which regulates the conflict of interest.
Now, that’s the only way to get two birds with one stone. The former is to be perceived as a substantial measure to break away from the “us against him” game played by oppositions in the past 20 years; the latter is to be seen by Mr Berlusconi’s supporters as specifically designed to hit Mr Berlusconi. It is, of course, and it isn’t. The two pieces of legislation, taken together, will balance themselves out. The goal is to finally draw a line on Berlusconi anomaly and prevent anybody from following his footprints – may he or she be leftwing or rightwing. Such “revolution” won’t directly solve the question mark surrounding the future use and alignment of Mr Berlusconi’s business Moloch, nothing really can, but it will certainly soften its impact on Italian public life. Everywhere in the world, in fact, the establishment try to retain power once they acquired it, but nowhere like in the fatherland of Niccolò Machiavelli the elite takes exquisite pleasure of replicating itself. Renzo Bossi, the Northern League leader’s son who notoriously failed twice the maturità, the British A-Levels, has been for instance elected councillor for Lombardia, Italian richest region; Stefania Craxi, daughter of the latest PSI leader, Bettino Craxi, is currently Minister at Italy’s Foreign Office.
Silvio Berlusconi has five offspring. The eldest, Pier Silvio, is vice-president at Mediaset. It’s fair to say that he has never shown any interest in carving out a political career for himself. Marina, Berlusconi’s eldest daughter, might be different though. She’s been practising at the helm of Mondadori before taking up a seat in Mediobanca’s governing board – and that’s a rather distinct job. Marina, should his father spectacularly fall, would therefore be in a stronger position to claim the throne. Needless to say, the last thing Italy now needs is a miniskirted version of Silvio Berlusconi.