Silvio Berlusconi, media magnate and candidate in Italy’s prime-ministerial elections, has announced he will decide by Friday whether or not to sell his Mediaset TV holding in a bid to quash fears over a potential conflict of interest.

Berlusconi is currently favourite to win the election on May 13. However, his lead in the polls is being eroded by a coalition headed by mayor of Rome Francesco Rutelli, who has used his opponent’s massive media interests (and the potential to use prime-ministerial power to benefit them) as a campaign theme. If Berlusconi wins, he will gain control of state broadcaster RAI as well as Mediaset – between them the two account for 94% of Italian TV viewing.

However, his decision whether or not to sell may depend on the polls. Although observers believe that offloading his media interests could secure office for Berlusconi, they add that it will only be used as a last resort. Forecast political commentator Claudio Bergoni: “If it appears that [Berlusconi] will win easily despite the conflict of interest allegations, then I don’t think he will see any reason to sell or reduce his stake.”

There is no shortage of speculation over potential bidders for Berlusconi’s $7 billion, 48% stake in Mediaset (Europe’s fifth largest media group). Among the supposedly interested parties are Rupert Murdoch, Kirch Media, Roberto Colannino (quondam chairman of Telecom Italia), Vivendi Universal and Bertelsmann.

News Source: AdAge Global