Who'd be Silvio's friend? TV star punched at dinner

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The Independent Online

Almost a year after the Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi was clobbered with a statuette of Milan's cathedral, one of his closest associates has suffered a similar fate in one of the city's top restaurants.

Emilio Fede, the news director on Mediaset 4, a television channel that is ultimately owned by the Prime Minister, was pummelled in the posh eatery, and after lamented that no one came to his aid – raising titters from the veteran broadcaster's many critics.

Mr Fede, nicknamed Fido, thanks to his reputation as a Berlusconi lapdog – so faithfully does his Tg4 news show toe the government line – was punched several times in the VIP favourite La Risacca 6 on Tuesday night. He was not seriously hurt but the incident immediately set tongues wagging, and threatened to unleash more tales of sexual impropriety. It was Mr Fede who is first thought to have seen photos of teen-starlet Noemi Letizia before passing them to an infatuated Mr Berlusconi. News of the 74-year-old Prime Minister's friendship with the 18-year-old underwear model prompted his wife Veronica Lario's call for a divorce – and effectively kick-started the sleaze avalanche that has now run for 18 months. Mr Fede was said to have helped the Prime Minister recruit young women for the party that included the 17-year-old Moroccan belly dancer Karima el-Mahroug, known as Ruby. Mr Fede has however, denied this.

Nobody has come to symbolise Berlusconi-era TV more than the husky voiced Mr Fede, who shares with his mogul employer a diminutive stance, a preternatural tan and a reputation as a ladies' man. Mr Fede's singular news-reading style, in which he regularly deviates from the prepared script to take swipes at the Conservative premier's political opponents, is notorious even by the standards of Italy's politically polarised TV.

Following the incident, a shaken Mr Fede, 79, told journalists that he had reported his attacker, said to be a businessman in his seventies, to the authorities for "serious injuries and death threats". "I was attacked in the La Risacca 6 restaurant in Milan and I have absolutely no idea why," he said. "I received punches in the head and the face." He lambasted staff for not intervening, and threatened to sue them as well.

Diners present during the incident gave a different version of events, however. "Mr Fede was dining with some people. One of them got up and started chatting with a businessman who knew Fede very well," one diner told Corriere della Sera. "When the director of Tg4 approached the other table he started to raise his voice and the businessman got up and gave him a thump."

Despite such an unpleasant ordeal, sympathy for Mr Fede, even among Mediaset staff with whom The Independent spoke, was not obviously forthcoming. The Tg4 news programme, which Mr Fede presents and directs, has been censured more by the watchdog Agcom for pro-Berlusconi bias than any other Mediaset news show. Mr Fede once concluded a live "interview" with Berlusconi's pugnacious defence minister Ignazio La Russa, with the hard-hitting line: "Thank you minister. I'll see you later for dinner."