The thorn in Silvio's side: Marco Travaglio has made a career out of exposing the Italian PM

He is even founding a newspaper based on The Independent to report on him.

For politicians everywhere, if you get hammered in two consecutive rounds of elections, you've only yourself to blame. Or at least, the opposition – for having done its job well.

But in Italy, the reverse is true. As a result, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi held the media solely responsible for his defeat in last month's local elections (when he suffered a major setback in some 90 Italian cities, almost losing the right-wing stronghold Milan to a communist lawyer and Naples to a former prosecutor).

In particular, Berlusconi blamed a couple of journalists. One of them is Marco Travaglio, who has been a thorn in the premier's side for more than a decade.

Travaglio has a nose for all sorts of political and judicial intrigues, even though they are never particularly hard to find in Italy.

In September 2009 he founded a newspaper modelled on The Independent, to provide a medium for his regular criticism of the Italian establishment.

He was in London in June to chair a debate about Berlusconi's approach to politics and the media. The debate, "Italians are better than their Prime Minister", was organised by London Metropolitan University and Il Fatto Quotidiano (The Daily Fact) Travaglio's paper, which shifts 150,000 copies per day, a big deal in a country where the top paper, Il Corriere della Sera, sells around 480,000 copies every day.

With sales figures on the up and a net profit of €9m for 2010, the paper has built its success on Italian scepticism towards traditional media outputs, which are regarded as biased and unreliable.

Travaglio's speech outlined his approach to the issue: "In Italy, a journalist who finds a news story spends more time trying to convince his editor to publish it than in finding it. Our paper was born for this purpose: giving shelter to those reporters who would like to consider their job done once they have found a story to tell."

Il Fatto Quotidiano's character reflects Travaglio's and its editorial policy has been clear since its first cover story, which uncovered an ongoing investigation into Berlusconi right-hand man, Gianni Letta, which "nobody dared to talk about". After years digging behind the scenes, Travaglio was thrown into the spotlight in 2001, when he published the book L'odore dei soldi (The Smell of Money) a controversial account of the origins of the Italian PM's fortunes. The allegations in the book sparked a huge debate after the author appeared on a chat show, giving many Italians their first chance to hear about the mysterious origins of Berlusconi's media empire and his alleged ties to the Mafia. The PM sued for millions for having "literally shattered his public, political and entrepreneurial reputation," but was unsuccessful.

Travaglio is now touring Italian theatres with his vitriolic show, General Anaesthetic, in which he ridicules the contradictions of a country anaesthetised by a media that is a "servant to the political power" and oblivious of its role as society's watchdog.

As well as appearing on stage and in print, his tongue-lashing editorials are the flagship part of the successful talk-show AnnoZero, broadcasted on Italian state television, despite being on Berlusconi's blacklist.

Summing up his quest, Travaglio told his London audience: "We just do what journalism is all about: we call thieves 'thieves' and gentlemen 'gentlemen'. It does look obvious but, believe me, it is not in Italy."

Lillo Montalto Monella is an Italian reporter and photojournalist. A version of this article originally appeared at

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