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Court OKs TV Reform Referenda

Italy’s Constitutional Court ruled on Jan. 11 that four referenda calling for major changes in the national TV law are legitimate.

This means that Italians will vote on the four reforms proposed by the referenda between April 15 and June 15, unless a new media law is approved by the Parliament in the next three months.

Moreover, if early political elections are called by President Luigi Scalfaro before April 15 (which is not unlikely given Italy’s current political chaos), the voting on the referenda will be delayed by one year.

The most important referendum calls for limiting to one the number of national TV channels that each single individual or company can own. According to Italy’s current legislation, the ceiling is now three channels, and Silvio Berlusconi’s media empire Fininvest holds in fact three national networks.

Last December the Constitutional Court already ruled that current TV law is illegitimate because three national TV licenses in the hands of a single individual is excessive. The Court said in December that by the end of 1995 a new TV law had to be passed, but it did not say if limits have to be one or two channels for each individual.

However, if no political elections are called, and the Parliament does not approve a new TV law by April 15, Italians will vote on the referenda next spring. If they vote in favor of the reforms, a new law limiting to one the number of channels for each individual will have to be introduced even before the end of 1995.

In short, Fininvest will not be able to keep its three networks, because the new TV law will fix the ownership limit either at two (if there is no referendum or voters rejects the reform proposed in the referendum) or at one (if the reform proposed by the referendum wins).

The other three referenda approved by the Court call for possible privatization of pubcaster RAI, limiting to two the number of TV channels each ad brokerage can sell spots for, and reducing the advertising breaks during films.

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