Berlusconi on leash

Italo watchdog to monitor media conflicts of interest

MILAN — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is setting up a new watchdog group to scrutinize potential conflicts of interest between his political position and his role as head of a $12 billion media empire — but critics are already claiming it will be toothless.

The creation of the new body means Berlusconi’s holdings, including Italy’s largest TV group, Mediaset, and leading publishing house, Mondadori, will not have to be sold or put in a blind trust, as had earlier been suggested.

By creating a “new authority which will supervise the premier and the ministers … we are trying a new approach (to the conflict of interest) which will not sanction the holdings but the behavior of the owner when he looks for his personal interests using the public role he holds,” vice premier Massimo Fini said Wednesday in an interview with Italy’s leading daily, Corriere della Sera.

According to other press reports, the three-member authority will be appointed by the Berlusconi-controlled parliament and intervene when it is alerted to irregularities. But it will only have the power to publicize misdeeds, not punish them.

The proposal was immediately criticized by opposition parties.

“This is unworthy of a civilized country,” said Marco Rizzo of the Italian Communist Party. “Only in a banana republic does the one who is to be controlled appoint the controllers who, by the way, have no real power.”

However, a recent poll by Datamedia indicated that 70% of Italians do not care about Berlusconi’s conflict of interests.

Berlusconi, whose right-wing coalition won the elections in June, promised to submit a draft law on potential conflicts of interest before the end of August. The bill is expected to be discussed and approved by the Berlusconi Cabinet next week.

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