On a slow day there’s nothing we like better at EPUK Towers than to while away the hours on Paparazzi!:Tales Of Tinseltown. More than a mere computer game, it’s practically a training manual for the would-be pap high on ambition and low on morals.
Having hosed down your subject, you have the option of negotiating with the tabloids, or if you’re a real sleaze – uh…that is, professional – blackmailing your victim into paying you to withhold publication.
Of course, its only a game. In reality no self-respecting pap would ever do such a thing.
So we were shocked – shocked! – to hear that at least one celebrity documentarian has made the idea the centrepiece of his business plan. Fabrizio Corona, from the notoriously law abiding region of Sicily, has been operating his own code of silence, offering to sell to his subjects pictures that they’d prefer were seen only by their closest friends, if anyone at all.
Corona, owner of the picture agency of the same name, and described as the ‘king of the paparazzi’ – now that’s what we call royalty – was arrested on Monday by magistrates investigating an alleged blackmail and prostitution scandal.
The police investigations – for there are more than one – contain all the elements designed to appeal to connoisseurs of the finest of bad soap opera: international footballers, drug-snorting transvestites, national politicians, the country’s most famous porn producer, celebrity cocaine parties, an alleged prostitution ring, and the head of the Italian royal household. It’s not so much Fellini and La Dolce Vita as an episode of Dynasty directed by David Lynch.
Unkind words are being bandied around: words like blackmail and extortion. Corona denies this, explaining to Italian TV that he was merely offering the pictures to the subjects to see if they were willing as buyers to pay more than the gossip rags.
However investigators tapping his phones overheard him tell his wife: ‘Yes it’s true, I ruin lives, I am a piece of shit and I don’t even feel guilty anymore.’
The story hit the front pages after Corona’s arrest when it was revealed that one of his ‘clients’ was Barbara Berlusconi, daughter of media magnate and former Prime Minister Silvio, currently a defendant in an unrelated corruption trial. It’s hard to keep up with all of this, isn’t it?
Initial reports, based on a taped interview between Barbara Berlusconi and the investigating magistrate that was leaked to the media, claimed that her father had paid Corona 20,000 euros to prevent publication of the pictures of his 22-year-old daughter drunk and in a ‘compromising situation’ with a stranger outside a Milan nightclub. However Ms Berlusconi subsequently said that the pictures had been bought not because she was shown drunk and passionately kissing someone other than her fiancé, but because they were ‘unflattering’.
Meanwhile yet another tape was leaked in which photographer Massimiliano ‘Max’ Scarfone told Corona that he had photographed Prime Ministerial spokesman Silvio Sircana talking to a topless transsexual prostitute from his car. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mr. Sircana was rushed to hospital with an abdominal complaint when news of the tape became public.
Even less surprisingly, Mr. Scarfone has subsequently claimed that he had never taken pictures of Mr. Sircana with transsexuals, his conversation with Mr. Corona was all a joke, and he had never, ever, blackmailed anyone. Honest, guv.
Normally fractious Italian political leaders have put aside their differences to agree that the scandal shows the country’s public life in a light that is, as Barbara Berlusconi might put it, less than flattering. And so they have vowed to take action.
Not to clean up Italian public life – politics is the art of the possible, after all – but to clamp down on the media’s ability to report on such events, and in particular their use of transcripts from the country’s spectacularly leaky prosecutors’ and lawyers’ offices.