Journalists In New Protest as Berlusconi’s Grip on Italian Media Becomes A Stranglehold

The International Federation of Journalists today accused Italian legislators of sacrificing pluralism and democracy to strengthen Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's hold over the media.

“Just a few days before world press freedom day, Italian lawmakers have reinforced the most flagrant abuse of principles guaranteeing media diversity in the western world,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

He was speaking after the Italian Parliament had decided to confirm a new media law which the Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi had vetoed last year. The action confirmed by Italy's cabinet which passed an emergency decree aimed at protecting one of three television channels owned by Berlusconi, which regulators said should be taken out of terrestrial service and switched to satellite transmission.

“This decision further reinforces Mr Berlusconi's control over 90% of television – in the private and public sector,” said White. “Even worse, it permits him to acquire more newspapers and radio stations and strengthens his grip on the country’s media landscape.”

The IFJ, whose regional group the European Federation of Journalists issued a stinging report on the Italian media situation late last year, rejects the views of Mr Berlusconi's allies who claim the concerns which led to the veto by President Ciampi, have been addressed in the new version of the law.

“No amount of tinkering with the detail gets away from the reality that this law endorses an unacceptable level media concentration and ignores the scandalous conflict of interest between the political and private interests of the Prime Minister,” said White.

Berlusconi owns three private television stations and exercises considerable influence over the state broadcaster. He also has assets in the publishing industry and controls newspapers.

“Now the man who is already Italy's biggest media magnate will be able to increase his monopoly,” said White. “Although there is a clause limiting the maximum revenue earned by a single media company, it excludes publishing, cinema and music interests from the calculation.”

The IFJ said that, in co-operation with Italian journalists in membership of the FNSI, the Italian journalists’ union, they would vigorously campaign against the situation in Italy, which will also be discussed at the IFJ World Congress in Athens next month.