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Berlusconi taps newsman as party advisor

Giovanni Toti touted as possible heir

24 January, 16:06
Berlusconi taps newsman as party advisor (ANSA) - Rome, January 24 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Friday named the former news chief of one of his three TV channels as political advisor in his revived Forza Italia (FI) party.

Giovanni Toti, 45, stepped down as news editor on Retequattro, the smallest and allegedly most biased of the Berlusconi channels, to take up the post.

Toti has been an impressive performer for Berlusconi on the talk-show circuit and the three-time premier proposed him as FI national coordinator earlier this month.

But opposition from FI heavyweights scotched the appointment, which would have placed Toti in prime position to take over the mantle of his employer, who was evicted from parliament in November on a tax-fraud-related ban from office.

Italian media said the conservative leader bowed to the argument that Toti fell far short of being able to fill the shoes of Berlusconi, whose charismatic appeal over his electorate is undimmed by his well-publicised legal travails.

Berlusconi, 77, is reportedly still thinking of making Toti his heir and is currently putting him through a fitness and diet regime in a northern Italian wellness clinic where the billionaire media magnate is himself trying to shed some weight before returning to the political fray.

The centre-right leader has vowed to lead FI to victory against the centre left in the next general election despite having to do 10 months of community service after the tax-fraud conviction, his first binding one in 20 years of legal battles, and several other judicial threats including a first-instance conviction for sex with an underage prostitute.

But Berlusconi, who recently reaffirmed his key position on the political scene by doing a deal on electoral reform with new centre-left leader Matteo Renzi, will gradually take a back seat and increasingly put Toti in the front line, Italian pundits say.