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Media concentration in hands of Berlusconi "cause for concern," says IPI mission

The IPI delegation talks to representatives of Italy's publishers' federation on 10 November
The IPI delegation talks to representatives of Italy's publishers' federation on 10 November

IPI

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's ownership of Italy's most powerful private broadcasting company - and willingness to use his power to influence the country's public broadcaster - are severe blows to the diversity of Italy's television news, the International Press Institute (IPI) found on a recent press freedom mission to the country.

Considering that most Italians use TV as their primary source of information, "the politicisation of public broadcaster RAI and the lack of effective conflict of interest legislation are "worrisome," says IPI.

RAI has always been somewhat influenced by political leaders, notes IPI - its three TV channels are traditionally divided among the three strongest political parties, and its board is elected by Parliament according to proportional criteria.

But Berlusconi's government takes it to a whole new level. For instance, the board nominates all of the editors and sub-editors, who are "informally" chosen based on their supposed political affiliation. And Berlusconi himself forced three programmes off the air that were only reinstated later by the courts, IPI found.

On 12 November, IPI completed a week-long mission to Italy during which it met media stakeholders, politicians and government representatives. IPI concluded that while the media in Italy is marked by a strong degree of freedom, there are pockets of serious concern, such as the difficulties Italian journalists face in covering organised crime, particularly in southern regions in which the mafia's influence is rampant.

IPI expressed relief at the apparent stalling of the country's so-called "wiretap bill" - which the government had portrayed as a measure to protect privacy in a country marked by an above-average number of wiretaps, and a media that delights in exposing wiretap details at early stages of investigations.

Portions of the bill, including restrictions on the legitimate reporting of investigations and potential fines for publishers of up to almost half a million Euros, had sparked strong concerns about press freedom, particularly following a string of political and corruption scandals in Italy.

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