Updated: Sept. 18, 2012 at 6:35 a.m. EST
In Paris, the British royal family were seeking an injunction against the further publication of pictures of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, topless on a terrace during a vacation in southern France. On Tuesday, they got their wish with the French court ordering the publisher of Closer to hand over all digital copies of the topless photos and blocked further publication of the images. In Ireland, the tabloid that ran the grainy photographs risks being shut down by its furious owner. In the U.K., no paper has dared send the images to the printers.
Compare that with the situation in Italy, where “Scandal in the Court: The Queen Is Naked” is the headline on the cover of Chi, a tabloid magazine owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and managed by his daughter Marina. In the country that gave the world the word paparazzi, the publication of the pictures has largely been greeted with a shrug. “In Italy, public figures have a reduced amount of privacy,” says Candida Morvillo, a columnist for Italy’s RCS media group and former editor of the Italian tabloid magazine Novella 2000. “It’s not so important to us if it’s in the public interest. For us, there’s only a single question: Were the pictures taken legally or not?” Few Italian lawyers would believe the snaps, taken from a public location, were illegal.
The 19-page spread, published Monday, consists of grainy pictures that are shot with a telephoto lens and in which Kate can be seen rubbing suntan lotion onto the shoulders of her husband Prince William. The package includes an essay that declares the Duchess’s backside to be “practically perfect.” But an accompanying brief by Paolo Santanchè, a plastic surgeon and ex-husband of a prominent parliamentarian, is less forgiving. Titled “Natural or Redone,” it declares Kate’s chest to be clearly unenhanced, yet a little flat. Writes Santanchè: “If on one hand, the figure of the princess, an icon of class and style, doesn’t require an abundant [bosom], I worry that the hoped-for pregnancy could do away with what little there is, and thus … God save the queen!”
To be sure, the identity of the subject aside, the photos are little different from the regular fare of the country’s tabloid magazines, which, not unlike the U.K. press, serves their readers a steady diet of starlets, models and footballer’s wives, with the occasional politician thrown in for good measure. Until recently, even the most serious news magazines beefed up their newsstand sales with bare-chested models on the cover. Indeed, both Berlusconis — father and daughter — have had their run-ins with the paparazzi. In 2009, Silvio’s legal team successfully suppressed the publication of photos taken at his Sardinian villa of topless women and an aroused Czech politician with his pants off, on the grounds that the photographer had been trespassing on Berlusconi’s private property when the pictures were taken.
The following year, Chi published a series of flattering pictures of Marina Berlusconi, chairman of the magazine’s parent company, Mondadori, which also owns Closer, the French magazine that first published pictures of Kate. The photographs showed Marina, considered one of the most powerful women in the world, topless in a black bathing suit, on holiday in the family villa in Bermuda. A few years earlier, the group the columnist Morvillo works for had published its own pictures of Marina with her shirt off. “It was a scoop,” she says. “But not a scandal.”
The photographs became controversial because they — like so many stories in Italy — tumbled into a political spat. After the left-leaning newspaper La Repubblica published a turgidly worded article criticizing Silvio for not intervening as a prominent statesman to stop the publication of the pictures, Marina responded with a letter to the editor defending the former Prime Minister. “My father is a politician, and with all respect, he has other things to think about than a photo shoot,” she wrote. “What should [he] have done?” she added. “Should he have trampled the editorial independence of Mondadori, forced it to not publish what the vast majority of gossip magazines, in every part of the globe, would compete to publish?”
In the end, with Silvio Berlusconi gearing up for another run for office, the decision to publish the pictures almost certainly had less to do with politics of freedom of the press and more to do with selling copies of the magazine. “You can be sure that Marina wouldn’t do something that her father didn’t think was O.K.,” says Alexander Stille, author of The Sack of Rome: Media + Money + Celebrity = Power = Silvio Berlusconi. “In the Berlusconi world, making a buck is making a buck. They rarely turn down an opportunity for good business.”