As Standard & Poor has decided to further downgrade the economic outlook for Italy, the country's Web users are busy at poking jokes at Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his predictable reaction to the downgrade itself, which he dismissed as “politically motivated.” Oddly enough for a media tycoon who owns three of Italy's six major TV networks and two Italian newspapers, Mr. Berlusconi also blamed the lowered rating on “the media.”
Late Monday, Standard & Poor cut Italy's credit rating by one notch, to A from A+, in light of what it sees as the country's weakening economic growth prospects and higher-than-expected levels of government debt. The credit rating agency cited Berlusconi's "fragile" coalition and institutional deadlocks that have blocked reforms in saying it believed Italy was vulnerable to heightened risks.
But within hours of Berlusconi's response, #silviodimettiti, or "Silvio Go Home," was the leading hashtag on Twitter in Italy. “Blame it on the media,” or #colpadeimedia, was also a popular trend, as many Web activists poked jokes on the flamboyant prime minister's habit of blaming everything on “the media” and, alternatively, on “the communists."
[ Video is no longer available. ]
The “Twitter consensus” is that if Italy's poor economic forecast can be blamed on the media, then everything can: “It's raining, blame it on the media” (@Lucabeccattini), “My throat hurts, blame it on the media” (@ClaudioPiazzi), “Trains are late, blame it on the media” (@CristianaRaffa), “Should I fail my final, blame it on the media” (@stiperoc), and so on.
Although this time, Berlusconi had not yet put the blame on his other favorite scapegoat, “the communists,” many of his Twitter mockers did. “I knew S&P was full of communists,” writes Emanuele Rossi, or @danenblog. “So it's not just the judges, now also rating agencies are full of commies,” says Emanuele Cardinali (@emanuele139). Berlusconi, who is currently involved into two separate trials about call girls, has often blamed judges of being communist sympathizers – he has even created the “toghe rosse,” or red gowns, epithet for them.
What has probably angered Berlusconi the most – and boosted his critics' call for resignation – is that Standard & Poor's explicitly criticized his government. “Italy's fragile governing coalition and policy differences within parliament will likely continue to limit the government's ability to respond decisively to domestic and external macroeconomic challenges,” said the rating agency in a statement.
Earlier this month, Berlusconi's ruling coalition introduced an austerity plan designed to reduce the deficit by 54 billion euros ($70 billion) over the next three years. Yet many economists fear that the plan, which focuses mostly on raising taxes, will further slow the economy. So does Standard and Poor's: “More subdued external demand, government austerity measures, and upward pressure on funding costs in both the public and private sectors will, in our opinion, likely result in weaker growth for the Italian economy.”
Berlusconi, who is facing a growing opposition from within his own party and media hype on his numerous alleged affairs with prostitutes, is now dealing with growing discontent about his economic policies. Yet experts argue that Italy's economic problems have much deeper roots.
“Italian economic policies have been almost suicidal for the past 15 years, regardless of who was in power,” says Oscar Giannino, a popular financial commentator at Radio24. “Whether left or right, politicians have missed so many possibilities. They had the occasion to lower fiscal pressure without cutting welfare, but did not,” he argues. “I'm not surprised at all that the public debt rating got downgraded. What I fear is that that Italian banks will be next.”
● Associated Press material was used in this report.