A television channel owned by the media empire of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, has been accused of an extraordinary attempt to harass the judge who earlier this month ruled against his business empire in a bribery case.
Within days of magistrate Raimondo Mesiano ordering Berlusconi's Fininvest group, his financial holding company, to pay €750m (£680m) in compensation to a rival company, the prime minister's flagship Canale 5 channel began secretly filming the magistrate in the streets of Milan as he went about his business.
The results were beamed to millions on the Mattino 5 programme, accompanied by a voiceover that ridiculed Mesiano for his "extravagant" and "eccentric behaviour", his "impatience", and, most bizarrely, the fact that he wore turquoise socks. Mesiano appeared to have done nothing stranger than go for a shave, and smoke cigarettes outside the barber shop while awaiting his turn.
The video has raised tensions between Berlusconi and the judiciary even further following the Constitutional Court's decision earlier this month to strip thePrime Minister of his immunity from prosecution – thus making it likely that he will have to return to court on corruption charges.
At the weekend, the national magistrates association, CSM, expressed outrage that the judge had been secretly shadowed during his free time. "We don't think there are precedents in Italy for denigrating a person and seeking to cast aspersions about ordinary everyday activities," the association said. It has reported the incident to the privacy watchdog, which is said to be investigating.
"The worst thing – the thing that really gives you the shivers – is the shadowing, the spying, the violation of privacy, the public ridicule, with the implied warning: look out, we're watching you," one journalist wrote in La Stampa on Saturday. He added that the harassment of a judge in this way was something that so far "we've seen only in the movies".
Dario Franceschini, leader of the Democratic Party, said: "Mesiano was simply guilty of doing his job as a judge." On Twitter he called on people to wear turquoise socks to show support for the judge.
But most tellingly, Berlusconi's political allies and some insiders in Mediaset, which broadcasts Canale 5, also said they were appalled by the report. One Mediaset writer told The Independent yesterday: "This is the most disgraceful, pathetic and witless thing I've ever seen."
Enrico Mentana, a prominent journalist and former director of Berlusconi's Canale 5, said: "This was an action designed to offend someone who made an enemy of the company [Mediaset] simply by doing his job." He called on Fedele Confalonieri, Mediaset's president and a senior Berlusconi lieutenant, "to get a grip on things".
Mauro Crippa, Mediaset's head of news, issued a combative statement defending what he said was an "objective broadcast" on a figure who had risen to "national and international prominence". He added: "We don't accept lectures from those who have routinely used spying as a journalistic method", in an apparent reference to the newspapers' coverage of the sex scandals involving the Prime Minister.
Berlusconi was likely to have been further angered when he heard that Mesiano was promoted in the judiciary within days of the Fininvest ruling.Reuse content