Amendment will prevent ownership of more than 2 networks

ROME — In a surprise vote, Italy’s lawmakers approved legislation that will curb — if only slightly — media magnate and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s stranglehold on the TV market Wednesday.

The Chamber of Deputies narrowly passed an amendment to proposed TV laws drafted by Communications Minister Maurizio Gasparri that will prevent companies from owning more than two national broadcasters.

Berlusconi ally Gasparri originally urged the legislature to lift that bar. Berlusconi’s Mediaset, Italy’s largest broadcaster, includes terrestrial channels Canale 5, Italia 1 and Rete 4. If the law is passed by the Italian Senate, Berlusconi could be forced to put Rete 4, the least-watched, on satellite.

Amendment also restricts any individual who owns 20% of the financial resources of a broadcaster from controlling newspapers or radio stations. Gasparri’s original proposal upped the quota to 25% and did not restrict cross-ownership between TV and newspapers.

The opposition parties are hailing this as their first victory in the conflict of interest scandal surrounding Berlusconi’s leadership.

Calling the vote an “act of liberty,” Luciano Volante, leader of the left-of-center Democratic party, declared, “We have defended the right of Italians to inform and to be informed. Now Berlusconi has to free himself of one network.”

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