11 July 2009

Making mountains out of moguls

Regular readers of Hofflimits will be aware of my bafflement with Italy - its many, many wonderful points as a place to visit in contrast with its inadequacies as a place to live. The UK is hardly Avalon, but, in general, our politicians are closely scrutinised for personal probity, and when something doesn't happen as it should - be that late train, closed office or underperforming sports team - some sort of acknowledgement is made, along with an apology.

But have I been too hasty? The recent hosting of the G8 in the mountains of L'Aquila, Italy, has, ironically, caused me to think we may have more in common with our southern European neighbours than I once thought. It goes without saying that the policing of the, by now de rigeur, protests has been shambolic, but then again I defy anyone to show me a country that has handled large scale street protests to popular acclaim.

But who would have a political system run by a septuagenarian who owns half the country's media, and who controls the political process beyond ordinary accountability, ridiculed for his pursuit of women young enough to be his granddaughter? I was considering this today as a story about a former News International editor withered and died in the face of too many cowardly, self-interested politicians, journalists and assorted hacks and hangers-on.

The police effectively surpressed the story of illegal phone-tapping of major UK public figures, and the Murdoch press, of course, do not want to touch it. The political party likely to form the next British government is heavily influenced by the ex-editor at the very heart of the story, and distorted media bias prevent anyone asking the really awkward questions. If anything does come to be published to suggest wrongdoing, of course, our draconian libel laws are on hand to price people out of court - and make us more of a laughing stock than they are presently, in the face of wanton systemic abuses through "libel tourism" cases brought by overseas plaintiffs.

At least Berlusconi (a) is Italian and (b) does occasionally stand for popular election. But in the murky world of Rupert Murdoch, it's much easier to corner the market and pull the strings behind the scene.

Returning to my original perceptions, I contrast my recent 3-hour delay at Verona airport with my recent 3-hour delay at the hands of National Express trains. In Italy nobody even pretended to explain the delay, offer an apology or consider it to be worthy of serious consideration - it's what you expect. By contrast, National Express will update you about their incompetence with irritating regularity, offering mea culpas worth less than their current share price - they are the living definition of the expression "talk is cheap". Ultimately, the outcome in both cases was the same - I was late getting home. The difference was that the Italians didn't pretend to give a toss. Maybe the difference between us, in reality, is really one of pretence.

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