The first round of the pre-election face-to-face encounters between Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the Casa della Libert coalition, and the leader of the opposition LUnione coalition, Romano Prodi, on the state television channel RAI 1 was held in a studio with two journalists, the editors of the Messaggero, and of La Stampa and no audience.

The journalists had 30 seconds to put each question and the two protagonists had two and half minutes each to answer, with a further minute for further discussion if necessary. The television cameras only showed the faces of the candidate answering, with no sight of the reaction of the other.

The questions, which were poorly put, ranged from taxes to the need for women in government, from conflict of interest to educational reform.

Berlusconi, who doodled constantly while speaking, defended his five-year term but made little attempt to talk about plans for the future, while blaming almost all his problems on the previous centre-left governments. He made no attempt to hide the fact that he did not like the format of the face-to-face encounter and frequently overran his allotted time.

Prodi answered almost all the questions in his usual ponderous manner, he joked that Berlusconi would soon be blaming Garibaldi for his problems from the past and went to lengths to make the public feel that if LUnione win the coming elections they would assist young people in finding less precarious work, turn around educational reform, reduce taxes and only enter into any form of international conflict with the United Nations.