FOURTH ESTATE SLAMS BERLUSCONI IN MEDIA

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MILAN-He's Italy's biggest media magnate, but he has few friends in the media-even his own.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's only defender in the press is the daily newspaper Il Giornale, which he owns. And among telecasters, Rete4 network, also owned by Mr. Berlusconi's Fininvest, is about his only fan. The reason? The outspoken devotion of station Director Emilio Fede, referred to as "Fido" because of his dedication to his master.

But the rest of the media, the hundreds of newspapers, consumer magazines and TV stations, haven't been as compassionate in their reporting about the woes of Mr. Berlusconi, who stepped down as prime minister last month after a long-running feud over conflict of interest charges stemming from his media ownership. The reviews have ranged from cautious, like those of newsmagazines Epoca and Panorama, both owned by Mr. Berlusconi's Mondadori publishing company, to outright hostile.

The Fourth Estate has been especially quick to report criticism of Mr. Berlusconi.

One recent instance was the evening of Jan. 3, when Mr. Berlusconi was given wide berth to speak to the Italian public through a self-arranged interview program, "Cronaca in Diretta," on government-owned Rai 2, which attracted 6 million viewers.

His public defense of his positions, using state-run TV to announce his commitment to remaining in politics, outraged the media.

La Repubblica, for example, responded by calling Mr. Berlusconi a "TV Pinocchio" in a front-page editorial. The media even have their own opinions about Mr. Berlusconi's planned comeback, calling it "Berlusconi II: The Revenge."

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