Pubcaster comes under fire for lack of coverage

ROME — Italian pubcaster RAI has come under fire for ignoring the mounting sex scandal faced by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which now includes allegations that the media mogul turned politician slept with a paid female escort.

The latest developments in the scandal center around reports that a businessman, Giampaolo Tarantini, who is under investigation for corruption, recruited and paid women to attend recent parties thrown by Berlusconi in Rome and Sardinia.

One partygoer was Patrizia D’Addario, whose claims that she slept with Berlusconi are being probed by Italo prosecutors.

Berlusconi has dismissed the reports — which have been making headlines in Italy and internationally — as “trash and lies.”

His Mediaset group of TV channels has ignored the scandal, which is being covered daily by smaller station La 7 and Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox.

However, it is RAI-1 and RAI-2’s silence that causes the most concern.

The pubcaster is, ultimately, controlled by the prime minister, and the fact that the influential news shows on its channels appear to have been gagged prompted a heated outcry from Sergio Zavoli, the head of the parliamentary committee that oversees the pubcaster.

“RAI must regain its essential and crucial autonomy from outside interference,” Zavoli protests. The RAI commission topper has called an urgent meeting to “rewrite RAI reporting rules and make them finally binding.”

RAI-1 news editor Augusto Minzolini, recently installed by the Berlusconi government, has countered in a televised editorial that the sex scandal rumors are gossip and that there is “no certain news.”

The scandal has snowballed since Berlusconi’s wife Veronica Lario, a former actress, complained to local media last month about her husband’s fondness for young starlets. She cited Berlusconi’s presence at the 18th birthday party of Neapolitan model Letizia Noemi when she announced their divorce.

While the scandal appears unlikely to topple Berlusconi’s government, it is tainting his image ahead of the G8 summit Italy is hosting in July.

Franco-Tunisian film producer and media entrepreneur Tarak Ben Ammar, a close Berlusconi associate, told Corriere della Sera newspaper that what Berlusconi needs is a new first lady.

He urged Berlusconi to take his cue from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who married model Carla Bruni.

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