Sky Italia challenges Berlusconi bill

May 20, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome, May 20, 2010

Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia satellite network on Thursday raised its stakes in its growing confrontation with Silvio Berlusconi, Italian prime minister and rival media baron, by challenging a draft law in the Italian parliament that would severely punish editors publishing leaked transcripts of wiretaps.

Sky Italia said the bill – which passed the Senate justice commission on Wednesday night – “represents a serious attack on freedom of the media and expression”. It said it would challenge the law, if passed, in the European Court of Human Rights.

Sky Italia said its news channel had a “fundamental duty” to provide complete and objective information to its Italian viewers.

The proposed law, which is to go before the full Senate next week, has raised a storm of protest in Italy among prosecutors, who would have limited rights to request wiretapping of suspects, and editors and journalists who would face prosecution in reporting on investigations.

Mr Berlusconi, whose own intercepted telephone conversations have appeared in the media – most recently in trying to prevent the state broadcaster from airing critical programmes –
has accused the Italian judiciary of operating a “police state” and says the government is trying to protect the privacy of its citizens.

The bill had been stuck in parliament for months but the centre-right government renewed its efforts after the media published leaked transcripts involving an investigation into senior officials close to Mr Berlusconi suspected of corruption in the awarding of public works contracts.

The media would be restricted in its publication of transcripts or summaries and in reporting on investigations until cases came to trial, a process that can take years in Italy. Editors and publishers would face fines of up to 465,000 euros if they violated the law. A provision that would have jailed journalists was reported to have been withdrawn on Wednesday night.

Sky Italia’s public challenge of the bill reflects the deteriorating state of once friendly relations between the two media empires of Mr Murdoch and Mr Berlusconi who effectively reached an understanding that the former would restrict itself to the satellite market while the prime minister’s Mediaset would focus on the terrestrial market.

As the two groups come into closer competition on each other’s territory, Sky Italia has asked the European Commission for relaxation of the restrictions it agreed with Brussels in 2003 in entering the Italian satellite market so that it would be able to take part in the 2011 auction for the free-to-air digital spectrum.

Mr Berlusconi, 73, last year accused Mr Murdoch’s News Corp of joining in what the prime minister saw as a media conspiracy against him in publishing allegations of his relationship with a teenaged would-be model in Naples.

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