It is surprising that they have not clashed loudly before but as New York Times reporter Eric Pfanner notes European media titans Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi are hard at it now with the Italian prime Minister claiming that The Times of London has only been covering the relationship between him and 18-year-old model Noemi Letizia because Murdoch was miffed at a tax increase imposed on the Murdoch-owned Sky Italia. Murdoch counter-claim is right: The Times has been restrained in their coverage of Berlusconi compared with The Economist and Financial Times. Pfanner’s article is full of rich ironies. The first is Murdoch saying during an interview with his own business channel in the U.S. — Fox Business — that he doesn’t give orders to the editor of The Times. As anyone who has ever worked at The Times knows, he generally doesn’t have to: astute editors there know when not to cross lines and certainly all the editors I served under were very cautious about how the paper treated media stories or articles that touched on Murdoch business allies or rivals. I recall a story I wrote criticial of Pat Robertson never seeing the light of day: at the time Rupert was involved in business negotiations with Robertson about broadcasting the 700 Club on Sky in Europe.
However, Berlusconi’s accusation against Murdoch — one made without any evidence — doesn’t make sense. Murdoch is hardly going to go out of his way to irritate Berlusconi , especially while he remains in office. Berlusconi could too easily change media rules to affect Murdoch’s Italian business. Berlusconi has a tendency to push through the rubber-state parliament legislation that undermines his foes and, as Pfanner points out, Berlusoni is keen to increase his subscriber share of the satellite market in Italy as his free-channels are suffering from acute falls in advertising revenue.
That aside, the richest irony is hearing Berlusconi complaining about someone using their media holdings for personal use. Talk about the pot calling the kettle…..