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Italy’s Berlusconi losing his footing

Former prime minister has been easy fodder for Italo TV

After narrowly losing the election in April, Silvio Berlusconi vowed to make the center-left Romano Prodi government fall as quickly as possible.

But it’s been the 70-year-old tycoon doing all the stumbling lately.

Berlusconi spent three nights in the ICU unit of a Milan hospital after collapsing mid-sentence at a political rally on Nov. 26.

The sight of Berlusconi being helped off the stage by bodyguards made for gripping TV, and has filled the op-ed pages with chatter about an imminent political succession. As La Repubblica said in one editorial, “However glowing he looks when he steps out of the hospital, the question mark is there. It isn’t going away.”

Italy’s wealthiest businessman and former prime minister has survived a barrage of lawsuits and conflict-of-interest charges over the years connected with his Mediaset empire. Now he faces yet another trial for allegedly inflating the price his company paid for American TV rights.

Not surprisingly, some media outlets could scarcely hide their glee in covering Berlusconi’s collapse. Pubcaster RAI made light of the incident on the satirical news show “Blob,” broadcasting images of a stricken Berlusconi alongside the subtitle: “Fear, eh?” Rai’s top brass later apologized for the sketch.

Berlusconi emerged from the hospital mid-week to more unsettling news: Mediaset chairman Fedele Confalioneri said Nov. 29 that a new media bill, if passed, could wipe out a quarter of the company’s revenues.