Tomorrow we will have a verdict in one of the two trials involving Karima el Mahroug aka Ruby. In one, the accused are the model agent, Lele Mora, the former journalist and anchor, Emilio Fede and the former Lombardy regional councillor, dental hygenist and lover of Silvio Berlusconi, Nicole Minetti. In the other, the accused is Berlusconi himself and this is the one that will come to judgement.
Last week, the Italian Constitutional Court turned down an appeal from Berlusconi which if it had been accepted would have prevented another case, the so-called Mediaset tax fraud case, from coming to judgement. If it does and if it goes against Berlusconi, he will be barred from holding public office for four years.
Not surprisingly, neither the Fede-Mora-Minetti trial nor the Mediaset verdict were given any coverage in the international media. In contrast, not surprisingly, the camera crews are already staking out the Milan Court, waiting for the Berlusconi Ruby verdict while most of the Italian media are not overly excited about it.
This is a reflection of media values and priorities and it’s a pity.
Obviously if an ex-Prime Minister of a major European, G8 country is convicted of abuse of power and having sex with an underage prostitute, it is a great story. Even if he’s acquitted, it’s a good story. It’s pretty straightforward; sex is sex after all (well, it isn’t, according to the law, but we can’t explain those intricacies in a 90 second piece, can we?) and abuse of power is just that, Berlusconi bullied a policeman into handing over Mahroug to a friend rather than the juvenile judge (that is what he accused of). We can be sure that whatever the verdict, it will lead tomorrow afternoon’s stories on most international sites.
Even if he is convicted, though, it will change almost nothing. Certainly it will be shocking to have a court say it explicitly rather than most people just thinking that he was a dirty old man but it is not as if Berlusconi had a serious reputation to lose. If anything it would confirm all the stereotypes held in Italy and abroad, in favour and against Berlusconi.
But it is the court of first instance and there are two more levels and may be five years to go and Berlusconi has always maintained that he is innocent until found guilty by the Supreme Court. We’ll have plenty more of Ruby. But for the moment, she is not going to influence the government.
The Mediaset case, on the contrary, is already exercising a very insidious pressure on the government. Last week one Berlusconi deputy threatened that there would a mass resignation of his party’s parliamentarians if the Mediaset verdict is upheld. The so-called doves in the party played down the threat but their good cop-bad cop routine is blatant. The nuclear option of bringing the government down and forcing early elections on the single issue of Berlusconi’s conviction is still there.
In the meantime, the negotiators are said to be at work; there is a real and ongoing overcrowding crisis in Italian gaols and the bill to deal with it is being discussed and there is another bill on security where an article might be added. One option is to include an article in one of these bills to raise the lower gaol sentence necessary for a bar on holding public office to be valid. At the moment, the bar to public office needs a 5 year minimum sentence (which is what Berlusconi has been given). If that is raised, then the bar on public office will lapse. Alternatively, some crimes (like for example tax fraud) might be removed from those punishable with a bar on holding public office.
There are rumours of more desperate measures like putting pressure on President Napolitano to make him a life senator though it is not clear how that would be different from being an elected senator as he is at the moment. Or some sort of special immunity law also with Napolitano’s complicity. Berlusconi and his supporters have until autumn to work something out.
It is of course, possible, just possible that he take the conviction on the chin and continue leading from outside Parliament like Beppe Grillo. But somehow, I doubt it.
So that is why Berlusconi’s Ruby trial really deserves a lot less coverage and Mediaset much more.
As for the other Ruby case, did you ever hear the one about the agent, the anchor and the dental hygienist providing underage girls for an insatiable old man? It’s actually a much better story, if you’re interested in that sort of thing…