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Aired August 8, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET


OAKLEY: Hello. I'm Robin Oakley, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we bring together leading journalists to examine media coverage around the world.
It's one very daring move for journalists. "The Economist" magazine taking on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, challenging him to answer 28 questions in a detailed letter to the head of government. The questions concern Mr. Berlusconi's business and political career.

This isn't the first time the publication has gone head to head with the prime minister. Mr. Berlusconi has been mired in controversy of late, both in Italy and the European Union, where he now holds the E.U. presidency.

His comments and actions have invoked international criticism, but the prime minister remains resilient.


SILVIO BERLUSCONI, ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): When they throw mud and shadows on the office of the prime minister, they're throwing mud and shadows on Italy itself, which this prime minister has to represent.


OAKLEY: Joining me now, Carlo Rossella, editor of Italy's "Panorama" magazine. This influential news weekly is part of Berlusconi's media empire. And Bill Emmott, editor of "The Economist."

Bill Emmott, this is a pretty bold move for "The Economist," taking on Silvio Berlusconi so directly. Why are you doing it?

BILL EMMOTT, "THE ECONOMIST": Well, it's not the first time, as you said in your introduction, Robin.

We published quite a big investigative article about him just before the Italian general election in April 2001, sent him then 51 questions to answer before we published the article, and he didn't reply.

Since he's been prime minister -- he was elected prime minister -- he's been fighting off legal cases against him, partly by bringing in new laws to change the rules as to whether these cases are valid or not, and partly by bringing in an immunity law, which has just been passed in the Italian parliament by his majority, and which has brought to an end the remaining big criminal case against him.

We felt therefore that public opinion should hold him to task rather than the court since he has now prevented the courts from doing so, and therefore we should publish a new summary, based on new information and new research, on the state of play, and send him some or questions. I doubt if he'll answer them, but we'll see.

OAKLEY: But, of course, he's not the first politician to be accused of corruption. What is so particular about this case of Mr. Berlusconi that has led you to this action?

EMMOTT: Well, I think -- he is not the first politician to be guilty of this sort of thing, or be alleged to be guilty of these things, and we have attacked politicians for corruption in the past.

In his case, I think he's a very extreme example of the interplay between business and politics. As a businessman, he used corruption of politics and bribery of judges, according to magistrates at least, to advance his business interests and then to get himself into politics.

Now he's used politics again to protect himself from judicial investigation and to further the interest of his business empire. To us, at "The Economist," that makes him a sort of discredit to the very thing we stand for, which is business and capitalism, and I think that the appropriate role of democracy and justice is to regulate capitalism, and he's violating that.

OAKLEY: Carlo Rossella, don't some Italians, surely, feel as others outside Italy do, firstly that Mr. Berlusconi should be subject to the courts of the land in the same way as any other citizen and, secondly, that he has to some extent used his political power to advance his business interests?

CARLO ROSSELLA, "PANORAMA": I think that the conflict of interest exists in a certain sense in Italy, but it is an open conflict.

That means that the public opinion can monitor this conflict of interest day by day. Day by day, they can see what's going on. But in Italy there are many other conflicts of interest who are idle and are more dangerous than Mr. Berlusconi's conflict of interest.

OAKLEY: Do you find any conflict of interest yourself, working for a magazine owned by the prime minister of the country? Do you find that inhibiting to your journalism in any way?

ROSSELLA: No. I am not affected at all because Berlusconi never called me, never told me write this or write that. He didn't have any influence on the political line of my magazine.

I am completely free of writing what I want. My journalists are completely free, free of writing what they want. There is no, no orders from the top.

OAKLEY: And Bill Emmott, what kind of response have you had from Mr. Berlusconi to your challenge?

EMMOTT: We've had no response from Mr. Berlusconi to our challenge.

His spokesman was noted as saying Mr. Berlusconi may read "The Economist," but he'd rather have his lawyers read it for him, and I'm sure his lawyers probably have read it.

From the Italian public, we've had a huge response. We've had zillions of e-mails of support for our position on Mr. Berlusconi and a very few taking the sort of position that Carlo Rossella has taken. I could count them probably as less than ten, compared with the hundreds and hundreds of letters of support and e-mails of support, doubtless from biased Italians, against our position.

I think that it means that we've rekindled a public debate which I'm sure that the Italian press will follow up and debate themselves.

OAKLEY: Carlo Rossella, what has been the response in Italy to the corruption allegations against Mr. Berlusconi, which, after all, have not come just from "The Economist"? What has it done to his political position and his standing in the opinion polls?

ROSSELLA: Well, I think that the polls have not been effected by "The Economist's" article.

"The Economist" article is considered by the Italians part of a campaign against Mr. Berlusconi and I think a part of a campaign against Italy at the moment, because Mr. Berlusconi now is leading Europe, and this article didn't have a big effect on Italian public opinion.

The day after the publication of "The Economist", the Italian newspaper published a lot of articles about this story, but the day after this news disappeared from the newspaper. It's been a very, very short effect.

EMMOTT: I'd just like to suggest that Mr. Rossella, being on holiday in Miami, hasn't been reading the Italian media. It's been continuing this week. I've had a number of interviews.

ROSSELLA: I read the Italian newspaper, but the Italian newspaper published was very effected by your article the day after, but two days after, the news disappeared from the Italian newspapers.

OAKLEY: Bill Emmott, just one final thought for you -- is there a danger, given the lack of reaction that there seems to be in the Italian opinion polls to Mr. Berlusconi's troubles, is there a danger that by attacking him from outside, you're helping Italians to rally to his support, and that in the end it could be counterproductive for you to attack him as you do?

EMMOTT: Well, I don't consider that a danger. I think that that's up to Italian public opinion. It's their affair. It's their prime minister. They can do what they like with him.

But we are equally free to pose our questions, I think.

OAKLEY: Bill Emmott, Carlo Rossella, thank you both very much.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, the weather gets it's day in the sun as soaring temperatures across Europe put forecasts and forecasters at the top of the news agenda, when we come back.



The heat is on weather presenters at the moment as soaring temperatures across Europe put their forecasts at the top of the news agenda. Of course, the month of August is traditionally the so-called silly season, where light-hearted stories abound.

But this heat wave is no laughing matter. Forest fires across Europe are still burning, and the inevitable question of global warming as a probable cause of the heat is being debated extensively.

Well, here to talk weather woes is CNN's Feme Oke and "Sunday Times" media columnist and critic A.A. Gill.

A.A. Gill, it's not just the British any longer who are spending an awful lot of time talking about the weather. Everybody is doing it all across Europe now. Why do we spend so much time on the weather? Is it just the chance of a good moan?

A.A. GILL, "SUNDAY TIMES": Well, I think for us, for the British, yes. It is a bit.

What's amazing is how the stories in the British press are the same ones we've had all our lives. It's children in fountains and, you know, page 3 lovelies at the seaside, people frying eggs. What a scorcher. Those have been the stories for years and years and years, ever since I've been reading newspapers.

But there's a whole lot of news stories now which are about the climate change and about ecology and I think that's what's driving the global view of the weather.

I mean, it's been very bad, not just across Europe, but right across, I think, Asia a getting a very bad monsoon and of course we had, last year, the floods of the Rhine and things.

So this turbulence in the weather is now a global story.

OAKLEY: Feme Oke, it used to be a favorite sport, complaining about weather forecasters and weather reporters and how they got things wrong. I mean, famously, in Britain, the 1987 hurricane that hit southern England was missed by weather forecasters over here. They knew it was somewhere out there, over the Bay of Biscayne, but they didn't get the path of it right.

You always seem to be getting it right these days. Has it become easier to do your job? And how much is it done by, you know, computers and automatic machines and how much is it interpretation that you have to do?

FEME OKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a little bit of both, Robin.

Computers have made weather forecasting so much easier and so much more accurate. In fact, I have a computer here where I can just put it forward by two days and it will tell me where the rain is, where the heat is, where the humidity is, but then that's where the people come in, because if you just let the computers do the forecasting for you, you end up with snow in Tokyo in the middle of July, which is impossible.

So then you have to interpret it and use your experience for that era to translate the most accurate forecast. But I can tell you now, in certain places like the U.K. And France and Germany, that whole western side of Europe, the accuracy for weather forecasts now is 90 percent if not higher.

OAKLEY: Now, when you get out from your maps and your carts, Feme, and you're talking to people outside, do they hold your personally responsible for the weather you've told them about? Do they ever let you talk about anything else?

OKE: It's as if I where a doctor. If you meet a doctor, you always want to ask about your ailments. If you meet somebody who works in weather, you want to ask about where you're going on holiday, where you're going next week. Or, in fact, I've had somebody here at the CNN Center ask me, I'm going to be married next July, can you tell me what the weather is going to be like. Well, that's absolutely impossible.

There's no way I can do that. I certainly do humor people and climatology is really useful for giving people just a vague idea of what it might be like. But worth forecasts are notorious for being vague. It could be warmer. It could be hotter. Possibly those warm conditions may continue for the west of the week hence. You know the terminology and the jargon.

OAKLEY: You head your bets, a little like horseracing tipsters.

We've seen every kind of weather story this past week. You were talking about the serious stories on global warming, and it's gone all the way down to "The Guardian" newspaper doing the old egg on a car bonnet stunt, seeing if they could cook an egg -- it was so hot in London -- on a car bonnet. In fact, it turned out they couldn't.

Is the whole style of weather reporting changing, really?

GILL: I think very much. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) more famous saying, because part of the English joy of the weather was getting it wrong and it was never known. I mean, we did have this -- you would never know whether it was going to be sunny or rainy out there.

Now we sort of do, and the weather forecasts have got much better. They've sort of taken some of the fun out of our moaning about the weather.

One of the things I am interested in is how the weather seems to mean different things in different parts of the world. I travel a lot as a journalist, and I notice there are whole areas of the world which never seem to have any weather at all. Nobody is reporting the weather. You know, you're never told what the weather is like is Central Asia, for instance. Whereas, you know, I know intimately what's happening in Florida.

OAKLEY: Feme, weather reporters are becoming superstars these days -- no doubt you've got your Hollywood and sitcom offers on the way. But do you feel that weather has now become a part of show biz?

OKE. Oh, my goodness.

I think it always has. There's always been that split between being a showman or show-person and absolutely doing the science part of it. And I think in the U.K. We're very much sort of very down to earth and very scientific and pretty somber. In other parts of the world they're a lot more flamboyant.

Watch Italian TV. They have super-babes doing the weather with lip gloss and little tops and little string vests, and then you have to look in parts of the Netherlands as well. Again, very sexy weather forecasts. And in parts of the U.S., they have that balance between the science and the show biz part of weather.

But certainly when you've got a week like this past week, with very hot weather, very extreme weather, that's when weather really takes off, because it includes human interest -- we all sample the weather -- and it's a very dramatic way of getting pictures onto the pages or pictures into the first little bit of your newscast.

OAKLEY: I'll be looking for your string vest next week, Feme.

Just to close, a little bit of advice from both of you in coping with the heat. The British newspapers this week have been urging people to try Australian hats with holes in them, Tunisian trousers with drawstrings, even refrigerating your sheets.

Adrian (ph), what would you recommend for people to keep cool?

GILL: If at all possible, work at home. And enjoy -- and don't let anyone make you angry. Being angry when it's hot is twice as bad as being angry when it's cold.


OKE: Slow down. That helps to conserve some of your energy so your not overheating. Drink lots of water. At the hottest time of the day, you're always very tempted to go out and have a pint. Actually, stay indoors between 11:00 and 3;00 p.m. during your local time. Actually get out of the sunshine and enjoy it later on in the day or first thing in the morning. And enjoy.

OAKLEY: Sound advise there, Feme. Thank you. Clearly the Spanish siesta is the thing to do.

Feme Oke, thank you very much, and Adrian (ph) here in the studio.

Well, A.A. Gill stays on with us for a review of this weeks political cartoons.

Now, this one, of course, is for the funeral this week of Dr. David Kelly, the British weapons scientist, who was buried near his Oxfordshire home. And comments there, cards of sympathy from the BBC and HM government.

GILL: Yes, I mean, the joke is, when you get to the end, it's even more of the heartening cry of the BBC and the government, and then there's Geoff Hoon's postcard, "Wish you where here", because he's decided he's taking this week off to go on holiday.

I mean, it's quite an elaborate drawing for quite a small joke. But I think it's -- if the onus comes to you and says you've got to do something, as a cartoonist, a man who's being buried today, very difficult to get a joke out of it.

OAKLEY: Quite a small element of mockery, too, I think, in the sense that, mock sympathy from two organizations which many would hold responsible for driving him to his death.

Now, gay marriage. Well, the big issue in the United States, particularly...

GILL: Well, you would think, wouldn't you?

I mean, it seems to be -- we're led to believe it's the big issue all over the world, Nigeria, South America, Britain, America. I mean you really would think that this was the one, you know, social concern that was driving everybody onto the streets and every dinner table was -- I just don't believe it. I just think it's one of those things that people love writing.

Journalists love writing and talking about vicars. I mean, they are innately funny. And how they can be -- the Anglican Communion, or whatever they call themselves around the world, Episcopalians, can be this obsessed with homosexuals. And this absolutely makes the point. I think this is an incredibly clever and very funny cartoon where he says at the end, "Sorry, I keep seeing the letters (UNINTELLIGIBLE)."

I mean, that is -- normally you'd say that a cartoon that has to use that much writing is probably not doing it's job very well, but I think this is absolutely...

OAKLEY: The saying used to be too much sex makes you blind.

Another gay cartoon here. Interpret that one for us.

GILL: Well, this is -- this is your history. This is Henry VIII, for whom the Church of England was invented, of course, so that he could get divorced and marry Ann Boleyn, who he could then behead.

And this is Thomas Cranmore (ph), Henry VIII admitting, saying actually, "Cranmore (ph), I'm gay," and Cranmore (ph) saying, "You too? So does this mean," I can't read the rest of it, "That we can get rid of this Church of England crap"?

I mean, it's a bit of a labored historical joke, and if you didn't understand who the people were, it might not make any sense to you.

OAKLEY: Nice drawing of Henry VIII, though.

GILL: Very nice. Always nice to see a nice drawing of Henry VIII.

OAKLEY: And the gubernator, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

GILL: I expect an awful lot more people will recognize this. This is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's said he's going to stand for this very odd election they seem to be having, this recall, this second-go election for the governor in California.

I -- this is quite a good joke. I don't think the joke is as good as the drawing is. I get this terrible feeling that Schwarzenegger is such open house for cartoonists that we're probably going to get all those old Ronald Reagan jokes back again.

OAKLEY: It was a Schwarzenegger drawing which did rather remind you of Clive James's description of him, as looking like a condom stuffed with walnuts.

GILL: Yes, nobody has done as good a one as that. That is brilliant.

OAKLEY: A.A. Gill, thank you very much.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the world's media are reporting the news. I'm Robin Oakley. Thanks for joining us.



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