Berlusconi Extends Tentacles into Italian Radio Sector

24 May 2005

Mondadori, the publishing monolith owned by Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, is beginning to make its presence felt within the nation's radio industry - hitherto free of the premier's direct influence.

Radio 101 was absorbed into the Berlusconi empire in January, amid top echelon promises to revamp the station, one of around twelve national broadcasters in Italy.

Five months on, the changes have started with a new programming schedule and increased integration with the publisher's other businesses - all expected to be implemented within the next two months.

Mondadori ceo Maurizio Costa says he is eager to acquire other radio stations. As Berlusconi-watchers know, the prime minister is not one for half-measures when it comes to control of the media - a red rag from a blue bull, so far as his political opponents are concerned.

However, potential acquisitions are not thick on the ground. National radio frequencies are in limited supply and there are few buying opportunities. So what is premier Berlusconi's gameplan and why is he courting further controversy?

Invited to comment, Andrea Alemanno, a director of research at Ipsos Public Affairs is uncertain: "We have to understand first why he is moving into radio before we can see what the public reaction will be."

"But," she added, "with the exception of a few intellectuals, the question about Berlusconi's conflict of interest doesn't excite Italians very much, so there probably won't be a public outcry even if the radio station is successful."

Paolo Natale, a professor in the political science department at the University of Milan, is equally laid-back on the issue: "When the prime minister already controls most of the television channels, one radio station is not going to change much in the way of public opinion," he opined.

Given that Italian radio advertising revenues have jumped a combined 41% over the past two years to €400 million ($502.12m; £275.19m) according to Nielsen Media Research, the most likely explanation for premier Berlusconi's venture is the heady scent of molti lira.

Data sourced from International Herald Tribune Online; additional content by WARC staff