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IPI urges Italy to ensure independence of public broadcasting system

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 7 October 2009 - A press freedom protest organised by the National Federation of the Italian Press, in the Italian capital Rome on Saturday, and which according to the organisers drew over 300,000 participants, was on the same day criticised by Italian public broadcaster Rai 1.

In its 8 pm news show, the broadcaster showed an "editorial" in which Augusto Minzolini, the editor of TG1 (Rai 1's news show), criticized the protest, stating that it was "absurd" to think that press freedom in Italy was endangered.

"Today's press freedom demonstration for me is incomprehensible", Minzolini said.

Under the slogan "No to Information on a Leash: Right to Know, Duty to Inform," the demonstrators had been protesting against alleged attempts to stifle media reports following defamation suits brought by Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi against two Italian newspapers, La Repubblica and L'Unitá, as well as international newspapers including El Pais and Le Nouvel Observateur.

Berlusconi's lawyers have demanded sizeable compensation in response to articles about the alleged participation of prostitutes at parties held by Berlusconi.

The prime minister also launched a one-million-Euro defamation suit against La Repubblica for publishing every day for the past six months "10 Questions to Berlusconi," about his controversial private and political life.

"IPI urges Italy to swiftly put in place mechanisms to ensure the editorial independence of the public broadcasting system and calls upon the Italian prime minister to halt his defamation action against La Repubblica, and by doing so show that he has a clear understanding of the media's right in democratic societies to criticise elected politicians," said IPI Director David Dadge.

Ezio Mauro, Editor-in-Chief of La Repubblica, said: "We strengthen our democracy if we reaffirm the right of citizens to be informed and the duty of newspapers to inform".

Premier and media mogul Berlusconi is the founder of Mediaset, which controls the three largest private television networks in Italy and a number of foreign private broadcasters, and operates a series of news, entertainment and sport websites.

Almost 40% of Mediaset shares are still owned today by Berlusconi's family holding, Fininvest, which in turn owns the Italian film production company, Medusa, and the publishing house, Mondadori, publisher of the popular political weekly, Panorama, among other magazines.

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