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Berlusconi escapes European rebuke on media freedom

October 22, 2009

By Tony Barber in Brussels and Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: October 22 2009

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and media tycoon, escaped condemnation by the European parliament yesterday when MEPs narrowly rejected a motion deploring a lack of media freedom in Italy.

By 338 votes to 335 with 13 abstentions, Mr Berlusconi’s Italian supporters and other centre-right MEPs threw out a proposal for a European Commission law to protect media pluralism. The vote was a setback for Mr Berlusconi’s opponents in the Strasbourg-based parliament, who embarrassed his government in 2004 by adopting a report that attacked his dominance of Italy’s media.

The latest motion drew attention to Mr Berlusconi’s decision to take or threaten legal action against various Italian and other European news organisations that have reported extensively on alleged sex scandals in his private life. The motion asserted that Rai, the Italian state broadcaster, over which Mr Berlusconi exerts influence by virtue of his role as premier, had paid scarcely any attention to these scandals.

Mr Berlusconi’s allies have dismissed attacks on his media power as malicious and ill-informed.

Mediaset, the Berlusconi family-owned media group, and Rai attract about 90 per cent of Italy’s terrestrial television audiences, a state of affairs that centre-left Italian politicians denounce as a threat to media freedom. In addition, the Berlusconi business empire is Italy’s market leader in television advertising.

Centre-right politicians in Rome turned the vote against the opposition Democratic party. “It’s a real disgrace, that once again in the European parliament, the Democratic party and the IDV [Italy of Values] have tried to diss (show disrespect to) our country . . . who will compensate Italy and Italians for the umpteenth harm that bad politics has tried to procure?” said Daniele Capezzone, spokesman for the ruling People of Liberty party. Paolo Bonaiuti, government spokesman, said: “The left turned to the EU for its own battle but has come back defeated. In Italy there is no limitation to the freedom of the press.”

Mr Berlusconi made no comment.

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