The Prime Minister and the Press focuses on Italian media mogul and politician Silvio Berlusconi, examining the influence of his power across industries, and how his time as Prime Minister impacted the integrity of Italy's public broadcasting.
First coming to political power in 1994, Berlusconi was already an established media powerhouse as owner of Mediaset, a competitor to RAI, Italy's state-held public broadcasting network. Within nine months of winning his first election as Prime Minister, Berlusconi's administration fell under investigation in the 'mani pulite', a nationwide judicial query into political corruption. Sidelining his political career for seven years, Berlusconi ultimately regained the title of Prime Minister in 2001.
At the time of his second election, Berlusconi owned a bank, insurance companies, most of Italy's leading publishing companies, a soccer team, and three out of seven national television stations, making him the richest man in Italy and an imposing force. With political power he also gained control of RAI, replacing the board of directors within a year. Considering Berlusconi's ability to manipulate the spread of information across all major forms of media, one interview subject refers to the Berlusconi government as a "dictatorship."
Members of the Democratic Left accuse Berlusconi of working to destroy public television and censor any views in contrast to his own interests. Viewers will likely find these accusations believable; in an especially revelatory scene the filmmakers are approached by plainclothes police and forced to shut down the cameras while trying to record footage of a small anti-Berlusconi protest outside of RAI studios. Despite the fact the protestors and documentary crew are doing nothing illegal they are informed that anyone representing the Prime Minister in a negative light is unwelcome.
Anyone questioning Berlusconi's past, which is said to have involved bribes and other unethical business dealings, are met with lawsuits and denials from the Berlusconi camp. Any criticisms are painted as a smear campaign, his defenders labeling Berlusconi as the victim despite compelling evidence to the contrary.
The Prime Minister and the Press grants viewers a better understanding of Italy's political state and the impact one politician has had on the nation's media outlets. Produced by PBS' Wide Angle for Italian audiences, it should be noted that many of the interviews are conducted in Italian without subtitles, leaving English-speaking viewers to rely largely on the general narration to follow the story being told.