MILAN — Italy's state broadcaster RAI has refused to air ads promoting "Videocracy," a Swedish documentary examining the influence of television on Italian culture over the last 30 years, because it says the spots are an offense to Premier Silvio Berlusconi.
Both of the 30-second promotional spots show a smiling Berlusconi, the 72-year-old media magnate and three-time premier. One opens with a montage of scantily clad women who have appeared on TV over the years; the other features statistics proclaiming Italy's low standing in rankings of equal opportunity and press freedom and notes that TV is the primary source of information for 80 percent of Italians.
RAI's rejection letter, obtained by The Associated Press, called the spots "offensive to the honor and personal reputation of the prime minister," noting that the photos of the unclothed women were suggestive of the recent scandals over Berlusconi's personal life.
Italian-Swedish filmmaker Eric Gandini rejected the contention that film was anti-Berlusconi and that the film in no way discusses the scandals, which was finished the month before they broke.
Disclosures that Berlusconi had attended the 18th birthday party of a model in Naples in April led his wife to publicly announce she was divorcing him. Since then he has been linked to other women, including a prostitute. Berlusconi has denied having improper relations with the model, or any other woman.
"It is a film about the present time. It is a film that talks about how Italy has become after all these years. Of course, Berlusconi is in the story. But it is much more a film about Italian culture," Gandini said in an interview from Stockholm, where "Videocracy" was making its Swedish premiere Thursday night.
It will be shown next week at the Venice Film Festival and later at the Toronto Film Festival.
Berlusconi made a fortune with his Mediaset media empire, which he built up throughout the 1980s and which includes the three largest private television networks in Italy. Mediaset and state-run RAI's three channels comprise 90 percent of the free-to-air television channels in Italy.
Mediaset also has refused to run the spots.
"It is one of those cases where there is an excess of zeal," Domenico Procacci of the film's Italian promoter Fandango said in an interview broadcast on La Repubblica's Web site.
Procacci said the spots were proposed to RAI in slots dedicated to promoting cinema.
In its rejection letter, RAI also objected that the spots also imply a conflict of interest over Berlusconi's vast media holdings and "propose the possibility that the government, though television, would be able to subliminally influence the conviction of citizens in favor of its own choices and thereby assure their consensus."
RAI said the spots could be shown if accompanied by another offering an alternative point of view. Gandini responded that Berlusconi's Mediaset and RAI, by their very nature, already tell the other side of the story.
"The other side has six channels, 24/7, telling the other story," Gandini responded. "I think they really can afford a discussion about these things because it is not like they lack a means of telling the other side – to show how good everything is, or how fun everything is. Having fun is like a mantra of the past years. To say something else is obviously very, very controversial."
The 42-year-old filmmaker, who grew up in Italy but has lived in Sweden for the last two decades, said he intended the film for foreign audiences and was motivated by his native Italy's status as a laughingstock country.
"My friends in Sweden, they laugh a lot about Italy. It is kind of a comedy for them. That is why I did this film. I wanted to show my friends in Sweden how strong this cultural evolution has been and how it is nothing to laugh about," Gandini said.
On the Net:
La Repubblica daily: http://www.repubblica.it
Swedish production company: http://www.atmo.se