The power of Italy’s head of state President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi is largely symbolic save for the ability to command the Parlamento Italiano to debate any issue he deems to be in the national interest – in this instance the dominant ownership of the nation’s media by its controversial prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi, Italy's biggest media tycoon, effectively controls three national television networks, a number of leading Italian newspapers and magazines, a film company and an advertising agency. He retained these interests even after his election as prime minister in May 2001 – despite an ongoing storm of protest from political opponents and democracy campaigners.

The presidential prerogative has been exercised only four times in the last twenty years, most recently in 1996. In a seven-page letter to members of the Senato della Repubblica (the Senate of Republic) and Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies), President Ciampi wrote: “[There is] no democracy without pluralism and impartiality of information. I trust that parliament will know how to act toward the full realization of this principle.”

Observes political commentator and former parliamentarian Pierluigi Zamponi: “This is a rare event that obviously indicates how important the president sees this issue as being.”

Berlusconi, who has ignored demands that he sell his media holdings – or at least place them in a private trust – has yet to respond publicly to the president’s intervention. And although the move has been hailed with enthusiasm by other members of the coalition government and political opponents [the two are not mutually exclusive], the debate failed to attract a quorum.

A parliamentary official attributed this to the fact that many lawmakers had quit Rome for the August holidays and the debate will be rescheduled: “Parliament cannot choose to ignore a specific an official request from the president, but it will not be realistic to do so until September,” he said.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff