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The Talk of Italy: Who's Next?

Corruption revelations keep Italians glued to the news - a letter from Rome

THESE days you know, even before turning on the TV, what you're in for from the news broadcasts.

More avvisi di garanzia, the notifications sent by investigating magistrates to politicians and businessmen that they are under investigation for giving or receiving kickbacks on public contracts, working in collaboration with organized crime, or any other of numerous crimes being uncovered in Italy.

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More arrests.

More disintegration of and division within the existing political parties. More revelations of the parties' serious debts, now that it is unfashionable to take money under the table.

More attempts by the formerly powerful to thwart genuine reform and maintain the crumbling old boys' network.

And yet, there just might be that new name at the center of an investigation, so you can't really afford to miss the latest broadcast.

The scandal is now so pervasive that it seems everyone knows someone who is involved.

An art director broke off her conversation with an American visitor a few days ago to listen to the radio news, so she could find out if her husband's boss at Olivetti had been arrested.

The woman's daughter, a few months back, said she had a friend who had been unjustly accused in the bribery and corruption scandal, a man who spent nearly a month in Milan's now-famous San Vittore prison. He was interviewed by the famous Judge Antonio Di Pietro himself, the country's most prominent investigating magistrate, before being released.

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Across town, the woman's niece tells of the summer vacations she spent swimming and sailing with the family of a Neapolitan politician. The politician, of the Democratic Party of the Left, the former Communist Party, is caught up in the kickback scandal; his wife protests that he is completely innocent of the dreadful charges, the niece says.

A Puerto Rican married to an Italian, recounts waking up a few weeks ago to hear that her boss at the University of Rome had been arrested on kickback charges.

And a public relations director said she and her husband were anxiously watching news about the kickbacks on the Milan subway system last year, because they were worried that a relative who was prominent in the organization would be named.

So as all of these developments unfold, Italians are turning in droves to Canale 5, the flagship of Silvio Berlusconi's television empire. (Mr. Berlusconi, who can attribute more than a little of his success to connections in the Socialist Party, is at pains to explain that he got out of the construction business because he didn't want to pay kickbacks.)

More than a year ago Berlusconi got government permission to launch an 8 o'clock news program in direct competition with the most popular news show on state-owned RAI television.

The first program was disastrously bad, with the anchor shoving his glasses back up his nose every few seconds, with the wrong graphic popping up next to him, and with a raft of soft-and-fuzzy feature stories instead of real news.

Today, however, Canale 5's newscast is hard-hitting and objective. And it has been creating a stir. Its sophisticated presentation of the news caused RAI to revamp its own broadcast.

One reason Canale 5's program is popular is that it doesn't bury embarrassing news (as RAI has been accused of doing), but consistently leads with the day's most significant developments, which for some time to come will probably be Italy's must viewing: word of arrests and avvisi di garanzia.

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