Berlusconi Allies Pass Silvio-Friendly Media Ownership Bill

03 October 2003

Despite internal dissent, Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi's ruling center-right coalition on Thursday managed to steer its media ownership bill through parliament's lower house by a robust 318 votes to 261.

Critics are concerned that the allegedly "tailormade" new bill – if it eventually receives approval from the Italian senate – will favor the premier's already dominant media empire, Mediaset. Berlusconi, an ex-cruise crooner, is the richest man in the nation and insists the new bill will make Italian media more competitive.

Outsiders find the logic in this argument difficult to follow as Mediaset already owns three of Italy's main TV channels and the bill will neuter recent court rulings that the company must dispose of at least one.

The legislation would also allow cross-ownership of broadcast and print media beginning in 2009. Mediaset also has extensive interest in the latter.

Another cause for concern is that Berlusconi, as premier, is in a position to exert indirect influence over state-run broadcaster RAI. Opponents and civil libertarians fear he could abuse this situation to further his personal and political ends. RAI and Mediaset between them account for some 90% of the national television market.

The premier has resolutely refused to dispose of his media assets, insisting this to be unnecessary as he has delegated the day-to-day running of the companies to family members and aides.

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Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff