The International Federation of Journalists and its regional group the European Federation of Journalists today said that media bias in Italy in favour of media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi provided "compelling evidence that new rules are needed to limit concentration of media power in the hands of politicians or those close to them."
"Whenever media concentration takes place it is inevitable that media will become vehicles for defence of narrow political or commercial self-interest," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.
"The election of Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister of Italy provides compelling evidence. He controls the major private broadcasters as well as much of the country's advertising, and his holdings have served him well."
The IFJ notes that an independent survey of election coverage showed that while the Italian public broadcaster, RAI, gave the two leading parties and their candidates roughly equal coverage, Berlusconi's three private television channels gave him four times more exposure than his rival.
"This bias was inevitable," said Aidan White. "It is shocking that in one of the world's leading democracies such a conflict of interest can be permitted." The IFJ says promises by Mr Berlusconi to separate his business interests from his political life have been "half-hearted and unconvincing."
"Appeals to politicians to behave like democrats when they own half the country's media are meaningless," says the IFJ, "new rules are needed to ensure that conflicts of interest are made illegal and that media concentration does not lead to interference in the democratic process."
The IFJ notes that for ten years the European Commission has failed to make any progress on introducing new rules to limit media concentration. "The Commission and Parliament must wake up to the dangers. They must now challenge the opposition of mass media owners who, in spite of the clear evidence that democracy may be at risk, refuse to countenance any limitation on media power."