Ex-minister falls foul of TV trick

Someone is going to have to teach politicians that they shouldn't shoot their mouths off in television studios. Remember John Major merrily talking to ITN about the "bastards" in his own cabinet, only to realise he was being recorded?

Something very similar has just happened in Italy, with the difference that the politician in question, Alfredo Biondi, managed to shower insults not just on his enemies but on most of his friends as well.

The unfortunate Mr Biondi, who served as justice minister under Silvio Berlusconi and belongs to the media mogul's Forza Italia party, should have known better since he was appearing on the most irreverent political chat show in the country, Striscia la Notizia, which is notorious for humiliating its guests. The producers made Mr Biondi think they were just warming up, pointing the camera slightly away from him and keeping the lights down low, but in fact they were recording his every word.

Of Mr Berlusconi, who owns the television station which puts out the programme, Mr Biondi said: "He's no great shakes ... he always says the same things over and over. He can scarcely contain his impatience when anyone else speaks for five minutes."

As for Vittorio Dotti, Forza Italia's parliamentary floor leader, he commented: "I don't like him either. That's a fact. I can't stand him."

Credit for the practical joke goes to Vittorio Sgarbi, a fellow member of Forza Italia who doubles as an acerbic television culture critic. What, Mr Sgarbi inquired, do you think of Indro Montanelli, historian and newspaper editor? "He's a cretin ... a really shady character."

All through the conversation, which was broadcast late on Thursday evening, the camera was focused on Mr Sgarbi. As the comments became more heated, however, Mr Biondi's gesticulating arms came increasingly into view.

By now Mr Biondi's arms, like the rest of him, are probably buried deep in some hole where he can't hear the howls of laughter at his expense. A somewhat remorseful Mr Sgarbi said yesterday: "He took it very badly."

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