Berlusconi says Guardian made 'a colossal blunder'

Italian Prime Minister unhappy with the <em>Guardian's</em> criticism of his handling of the G8 conf

Silvio Berlusconi’s troubled relationship with the international media plunged to a new low today as the G8 conference opens in L’Aquila, Italy. Addressing a Rome news conference, the Italian Prime Minister described the Guardian's accusations that Italy's chaotic approach to organising the conference had led to US officials taking the reins as a 'colossal blunder by a small newspaper'.

The Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini expanded upon these remarks. "I hope that the Guardian is expelled from the great newspapers of the world," he said. "What the Guardian says is a joke – nonsense."

The controversy relates to claims made by the Guardian that US officials had to make extensive conference calls to diplomats arranging the conference due to the failure of Italian officials to provide an adequately weighty agenda.

These comments come at the opening of a G8 summit already beset by tremors literal and metaphorical. Last week the earthquake-stricken town of L'Aquila was hit by aftershocks measuring up to 4.1 on the Richter scale and there were some suggestions that the conference might be transferred to Rome at the last minute.

The chance to use the summit as a platform for brokering a key deal on tackling carbon emissions appeared to be scuppered as the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, flew home in order to deal with the instability in Xinjiang province.

And any economic optimism going into the conference, buoyed by promising financial indicators such as the recent increase in global oil-prices, may have been dampened by Gordon Brown's remarks to the summit today. The Prime Minister was due to address delegates on the need to avoid a 'W-shaped' recession by focussing on the current exigencies of unemployment , a lack of investment and the global credit shortage.

Berlusconi and the Media

Berlusconi's exchange with the Guardian is the latest skirmish in a long-running battle with the press. The Italian President has even called for a ceasefire, following recent allegations regarding Berlusconi's procurement of escorts for social events made by Italian newspapers including Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica. "Given the sensitivity of this international event, it would be quite right to call a truce in the controversies between now and the G8," Giorgio Napolitano said

And Berlusconi took legal action against the Spanish newspaper El Pais following the publication of photos purported to show women bathing topless at Berlusconi's villa, claiming that the paper had 'assaulted [the women] in a scandalous way'.

The Italian premier's longstanding antipathy towards the Economist (which he once dubbed 'the Ecommnuist') came to a head in late 2008 when he lost a libel suit brought against the weekly magazine for defamation of character, in respect of a 2001 article describing him as 'unfit to lead Italy'.

To a certain extent however the relationship between the media and Berlusconi is a love-hate one, with the Italian Prime Minister providing numerous opportunities for publications to make a 'big splash'. In once such instance, the Daily Telegraph last Thursday printed a sizeable front-page photo of Mara Carfagna. a former glamour model recently promoted to Berlusconi's cabinet, whom the broadsheet dubbed the 'world's hottest politician'.