Opposition chief Silvio Berlusconi has accused the government of deliberately targeting his media empire with a ‘criminal plan of attack’ on his three-channel private TV network Mediaset. ‘Mediaset will be forced to defend itself’, said the billionaire media mogul, who threatened to ‘lead five million people on to the streets’ in protest and use his TV channels to mobilise public opinion against the reforms. Premier Romano Prodi, responded that ‘demonstrations are a sign of active democracy and should always be respected but protests in aid of personal interests are less than praiseworthy’.
The media bill was drawn up by Communications Minister Paolo Gentiloni and has just begun its passage through parliament. Gentiloni’s bill would force both Mediaset and Rai to move one of their three terrestial channels to digital within 15 months of its approval, with the freed-up airwaves being sold to competitors. It would introduce a 45 percent cap on any given broadcaster’s share of the TV advertising market and reduce the amount of advertising permitted per hour of programming from 18 percent to 16 percent, with in-show advertising included in the calculation.The Italian TV system is currently dominated by the three-channel state broadcaster Rai and Mediaset. Together they account for some 90 percent of audience share and almost 96 percent of money spent on TV advertising, with 66.4 percent going to Mediaset and 28.8 percent to Rai. This situation has been criticised by the Constitutional Court, the Antitrust Authority, the Communications Authority and the European Commission.