Mediaset CEO Pier Silvio Berlusconi Wades In On Italy’s Zelensky-Sanremo Video Debate

Mediaset CEO Pier Silvio Berlusconi has given his verdict on an upcoming video appearance by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at Italy’s iconic Sanremo song festival, adding fuel to an ongoing political debate around the operation.

Speaking at a press conference for Mediaset results on Thursday, Berlusconi said he did not feel the festival, celebrating Italian song, was the right place for such an address.

The TV exec and entrepreneur is the son of Italian media tycoon and politician Silvio Berlusconi, who has described himself as one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest friends.

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Zelensky has made video addresses at a raft of cultural and entertainment events since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, including the Cannes and Venice films festivals, the Golden Globes and U.K.’s Glastonbury music festival.

Plans to carry out a similar operation on the final night of Sanremo on February 11 came under scrutiny after some members on the board of state broadcaster Rai, which holds broadcast rights for the event, raised concerns.

Italian media reported earlier that they had requested to vet the address ahead of its broadcast and warned that certain positions taken and expressed by the president could be harmful to the organisation.

The move followed comments by hard right government minister Matteo Salvini, who said he hoped Sanremo would remain a festival devoted to Italian song and “nothing else” in reference to Zelensky’s planned appearance.

The final night of Sanremo is one of Italy’s most watched live televised events. In 2022, it drew 13.3M viewers for a 64.9% share of the local audience

«For Rai it is a big nut to crack, it is difficult to decide when a request like this comes directly from the Ukrainian leader himself; as a broadcaster, I can’t say that Rai shouldn’t do it,” Berlusconi said at the Mediaset press conference, in answer to a question on the Zelensky-Sanremo debate.

“As a private citizen who pays his licence fee, however, I would prefer it if didn’t go ahead. I feel that on Zelensky’s side, there is a desire for visibility which disturbs me. There’s a conflict. Sanremo does not seem like the right context for me.”  

A number of media commentators have dismissed suggestions that Zelensky’s address has no place at Sanremo and that politics should be kept out of the event, unfolding in the beach resort’s Ariston Theatre.

““Sanremo and politics have always been intertwined,” wrote Mario Ajello, a journalist for daily Rome newspaper Il Messeggero, citing the presence of writer and journalist Roberto Saviano in 2022 and the appearance of late Russian President and Perestroika architect Mikhail Gorbachev in 1999.

“All the battles and issues of Italy have been exhibited on the Ariston stage, which has never been neutral and solely focused on the music,” he added.

Zelensky’s address is expected to go ahead as planned in spite of the political pushback in an evening that will also feature a headling set by U.K. group Depeche Mode alongside the competition performances.

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