Journalists Call for European Union Leaders to Act Over Media Mogul Berlusconi's Conflict of Interest

The International Federation of Journalists has called on European Union President Romano Prodi to take action over the stranglehold on Italian broadcast media being exercised by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The IFJ says that Mr Berlusconi's ownership of major private television networks and his ability to influence the public broadcasting system in Italy represents an "unacceptable and intolerable conflict of interest." "The perception of undue political influence and control over the whole of television in a single member state of the European Union runs counter to the principles and policies of modern democracy which require that the administration of media is independent and professional," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, in a letter to Mr Prodi. The IFJ is asking Mr Prodi to intervene with the Italian government to raise the question of the conflict of interest. Berlusconi's Mediaset dominates the television private sector. At the time of his election last year independent research of private television coverage of the election found a clear bias in favour of Mr Berlusconi's party during the election. Now the IFJ says that Berlusconi's ruling coalition is able to exercise a controlling political influence over all broadcasting in Italy. In addition, the IFJ says Berlusconi has broken promises to resolve the conflict of interest "in the first 100 days of his administration." The crisis is made worse, says the IFJ, because the Italian government is resisting attempts to bring about long-overdue reforms in the administration of the Italian public broadcaster, RAI. "Maintaining political influence over major public broadcasting channels threatens the concept of politically-independent broadcasting which has been a benchmark of policy within the European Union for decades," says the IFJ. The IFJ also says Berlusconi's disinterest in public service values and the creation of a politically-driven media monopoly undermines attempts to bring about reform of the public broadcasting sector in countries of Eastern and Central Europe, including Hungary, where both the European Union and the IFJ have both expressed reservations over political influence on public television. Letters have also been sent to the EU's culture Commissioner Viviane Reding, to the Council of Europe and to the Italian members of the European Parliament. "The conflict of interest in Italy would not be tolerated by the European Union in any country being considered for EU membership. It should not be tolerated in a member state," says the IFJ.