Fabrizio Corona is not the type of guy you’d want to invite to your “bunga bunga” party. King of the paparazzi, he’s a feared photo agent who flits about with VIPs and supermodels. He served time in an Italian jail for extortion a couple of years back and also blackmailed a professional soccer player.

Journalists have been beating a path to Corona’s door since the Rubygate s-x scandal broke, and show no sign of losing interest in the private life of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. On Saturday (Feb 5) Corona claimed that thieves broke into his Milan office looking for nude photos of the 74-year old party boy.

Any day now Milan prosecutors will move to indict the prime minister on charges of extortion and s-x with an underage prostitute known as Karima El-Marough, better known as Ruby, and the media frenzy will be reignited.

But the vast media coverage generated by the scandal around the world appears to have had little impact at home. There have been strongly worded editorials and a handful of TV talk shows are consumed with debate. Yet the latest poll released by IPR Marketing showed only a small slide in the prime minister’s popularity — he still has a 35 percent approval rating.

The question is how much do Italians really know about what’s happening? Only one in ten Italians reportedly read a newspaper and Mr Berlusconi fills the three commercial TV channels with dancing girls and reality shows and also sets the agenda at the three state-run broadcasting channels.

The foreign media love to spell the end of the Berlusconi era. The New York Times has hosted online debates on “decadence and democracy” in Italy while The Economist has revived its call for Mr Berlusconi’s resignation — something it first did when he was first elected in 1994.

The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal have been quick to say that Italy deserves better but little is mentioned about the bitter personal struggle between Mr Berlusconi’s TV empire and the Murdoch-owned Sky Italia for market share.

In a recent column entitled “The Embarrassing Image of a Country” published in the daily, Corriere Della Sera, commentator Beppe Severgnini included criticism from The Financial Times and chided his countrymen for excusing Mr Berlusconi’s behaviour despite their own embarrassment.

But even Severgnini himself says only members of what he calls the “Five Million Club” — the informed and educated Italian voters angered by the prime minister’s behaviour — really notice what the media says, particularly the foreign media.

“The other 45 million voters do not know and they are not interested,” he told me.

Giovanni De Mauro, editor-in-chief of Internazionale, a compilation of foreign news that sells around 130,000 copies a week, said the latest s-x scandal has divided Italy in half.

“There are those who are highly critical of Mr Berlusconi’s behaviour and those who do not care at all. Many people do not read newspapers and many get their news from television in particular the three commercial channels which Mr Berlusconi owns,” De Mauro said.

Those who are critical are now getting mobilized. Pockets of political activists — many of them women — have sprung up on street corners asking people to endorse an opposition petition demanding Mr Berlusconi’s resignation and thousands of others are preparing to demonstrate against the latest s-x scandal in nationwide marches planned next Saturday.

“So many women are fed up with it,” one woman told me as she gathered signatures for the anti-Berlusconi petition. “We just cannot take it any more.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey