A controversially amended bill is in passage through the Italian Senate that critics fear will enable premier Silvio Berlusconi to further wrap the tentacles of his influence around the nation’s media.

The legislation, if enacted, would allow Mediaset TV group – in which the premier has a 48.6% stake – to retain all three of its channels, substantially enhance its ad revenues and also bulldoze its way into the newspaper market. So vehement and widespread is opposition to the bill than over four thousand amendments have been tabled.

Even before enactment of the bill, Berlusconi’s dominant shareholding in Mediaset and his ability to call the shots on state-owned broadcaster RAI, gives him influence over 90% of Italy’s TV output. A situation that raises acute concern, not only to political opponents, but also proponents of democracy.

Those who believe his authority over Italian TV is greatly exaggerated were confounded last week, when the premier’s injudicious outburst at the European Parliament (and the consequent outrage it caused) attracted lead-story TV coverage across the globe. Except on Italian TV where it went unreported on Mediaset channels, and even on the main evening bulletin of the supposedly independent RAI.

The latest controversy has temporarily overshadowed opposition protests over a vote last week that excised from the communications bill a clause limiting any one owner to two terrestrial television channels. Opposed by communications minister, Maurizio Gasparri, the offending clause would have given legal force to a recent decision by Italy’s highest court that Mediaset must sell its Retequattro channel.

The 90% concentration of power in Italy’s TV market is such that the national monopolies commission last month deemed it the highest of any European Union nation. The two largest television companies in France have a market share of only 74%; in Germany this is 66% and in Britain 65%.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff