“THE PROPHYLACTIC PROPHET”
A notorious Italian safe sex campaigner has attracted more publicity than usual after brandishing a pink plastic phallus during a live television news report, writes Philip Willan
Friday September 27, 2002
Italy's "condom prophet" has devoted his life to popping up uninvited on television screens, usually behind the shoulders of TV journalists as they deliver on-the-spot reports from central Rome. But Gabriele Paolini's latest appearance, during a report on the budget on Wednesday evening's late news programme on RAI 3 (Italy's state broadcaster), was one show too far for many viewers.
This time, Mr Paolini was draped in the Italian flag and brandishing a small plastic phallus as he jumped from side to side behind an embarrassed female reporter. Efforts to zoom in on the reporter's face or switch to a wide shot including an uncomfortable-looking anchorman in the studio did little to exclude his encumbering presence.
Mr Paolini has been listed in the Guinness Book of Records for appearing on TV more than 18,000 times over a six-year period. A close follower of the news with a sixth sense for the locations likely to attract the television cameras on any given day, Mr Paolini reckons his antics have been seen by around 2 billion people.
The son of a retired general, Mr Paolini began his career as a "television polluter" when a 22-year-old friend died of Aids, contracted as a result of unprotected sex with a prostitute. His response was to invade TV news reports with a chain of condoms wrapped round his neck, sticking his face in front of the camera and waving a condom in his hand.
Sometimes the condom is replaced by a photo of the Pope, whose teachings on sexual morality are somewhat at odds with his own.
Neither RAI nor the commercial television channels owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister, have found a satisfactory answer to Mr Paolini's incursions. On one famous occasion, RAI's Paris correspondent, Paolo Frajese, turned and kicked the intruder in the shins, much to the delight of many viewers. On others, exasperated reporters have assaulted him away from the camera's eye. The deterrence has failed, however, and Mr Paolini's bespectacled face, framed between long brown hair and a simpering smile, has become one of the most familiar sights on Italian TV.
Mr Paolini has been in the news in recent days for throwing himself onto the prime minister's car to inform Mr Berlusconi that he had just joined his Forza Italia party and for his homosexual marriage to a little known actor named Lino Bon.
The [illegal] ceremony was celebrated by a Forza Italia councillor in the village of Rivalba near Turin, the happy couple reportedly jumping into the air as they pronounced their matrimonial promises: a novel way of leaving Italian territory and thus escaping the jurisdiction of Italian law, which still declines to recognise same sex marriages. Details of the ceremony were sketchy, as Mr Paolini had sold the rights to a television station.
Mr Paolini's latest appearance on the news has given an added urgency to broadcasters' efforts to muzzle the media gadfly. The pink plastic phallus, which could probably be described as life-size, did little to aid viewers' comprehension of the new budget law, though, to his credit, Mr Paolini did wait until most children had gone to bed.
Those most disturbed by the intrusion were probably the spectators and editorial staff in the TG3 studio, who must have been asking themselves whether it would not be better to cut short the live report and move on to a less scabrous topic.
Giuseppina Paterniti, the reporter who was the object of Mr Paolini's unwelcome attentions, said she barely realised what was happening, as she was concentrating so hard on delivering a hastily assembled report from in front of Mr Berlusconi's Palazzo Chigi offices. She did notice that someone was shouting behind her and heard Mr Paolini threatening to call the police when bystanders attempted to restrain him.
"Our work is already difficult enough, and this kind of thing makes it 4,000 times harder," she said. For the moment, RAI is attempting to play down the episode and deny its narcissistic and exhibitionist tormentor the publicity that he clearly craves.
If a gagging order from a judge or a couple of muscular bouncers fails to do the trick, there could be another way of keeping Mr Paolini's features off the screen. A satirical website, www.trascendentale.org, has suggested he should be made a director of one of the main news programmes. That way one could be reasonably sure of his remaining behind the cameras.
On Guardian Unlimited
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