ROME: Italian parliamentary opposition leader and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is outraged by the new government's approval for a media reform bill that could put the squeeze on his television empire.

The move, which he has dubbed "banditry", would force one of his three TV channels to go digital at least three years before the country switches off analog broadcasting in 2012.

Public broadcaster RAI would also lose one of its three free-to-air channels as a result of the bill, which is attempting to dilute the 85% audience share and 90% of TV advertising revenue claimed by RAI and Berlusconi's Mediaset business.

It would also reverse the Berlusconi government's controversial 2004 legislation which failed to classify so-called 'telepromotions' as advertising.

This marketing art is particularly popular at Mediaset channels where programme presenters drop any pretence at impartiality and urge viewers to buy specified goods or services.

The scandal-beset Berlusconi, who lost to left-leaning candidate Romano Prodi in April's elections, has pledged to battle the bill in parliament. He condemns it as "political revenge" and an "act of thievery".

Telecommunications minister Paolo Gentiloni acknowledges the reform would impact on lucrative advertising revenue currently enjoyed by Mediaset and RAI but adds: "Italy will finally start to look like a normal country."

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff