Advanced Television

Arrivederci Silvio Berlusconi

June 12, 2023

RIP Silvio Berlusiconi, another of the titans who dominated media in the eighties, nineties and beyond.

At a MIPCOM press conference in 1984 or 85, (the Com and some random satellite dishes had just been added by the wily MIP founder Bernard Chevry), the panel was Ted Turner, Robert Maxwell and Silvio Berlusconi. I remember reporting at the time that we only needed Rupert to complete the rogue’s gallery.

I meant rogue in the raffish, convention-defying, limit testing sense, not the blatantly dishonest sense later adopted by the UK’s last PM but one. Of course, that was being very generous to at least one of them – when Maxwell died just a few years later it soon emerged he had committed fraud and theft on a colossal scale.

Berlusconi, like his contemporaries, often sailed very close to the wind and often fancied he could make the weather. To his credit, in many ways, when he decided his country needed a right-leaning populist as leader, he ran for election. Other media emperors prefer to remain the powers behind the throne, picking winners and accumulating favours from vassal politicians.

But let’s not get carried away; Berlusconi ruthlessly used his control of the media to suck the oxygen away from his political rivals. You cannot argue that his watch as a politician who got away with continuing to own media with only wafer-thin Chinese Walls, did little credit to democracy. An extreme version of the same playbook is being followed in Russia today.

Property-developer turned media mogul turned politician, Berlusconi was one of the last owner-builders of media empires. However brilliant they are, there’s something a little less exciting, a little less enthralling, about our tech founders or, even more so, our media executives, no matter how many share options they amass.

Read The Times obituary.

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