Legislation helps out Rete 4, RAI, Mediaset

ROME — A controversial law decree that will save Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Rete 4 station from a court-ordered blackout was rammed through Italy’s Parliament on Tuesday.

The decree is part of media legislation going through Parliament for a second time after Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi vetoed the original version and demanded amendments. Italy’s Lower House, the Chamber of Deputies, passed the decree after infighting within Berlusconi’s coalition prompted the prime minister to demand a confidence vote on the bill, which must become law by Feb. 27 to keep Rete 4 on the air.

The decree also allows pubcaster RAI’s RAI3 to continue to collect advertising coin, despite a high court ruling under which Mediaset and RAI were supposed to have downsized by Jan. 1, in compliance with current media legislation. Under the new rules, Mediaset and RAI may still have to comply with the court ruling, but only when half the country becomes equipped for terrestrial digital satellite.

Shares in Berlusconi-controlled broadcast group Mediaset closed up 2.44 % at e9.54 ($12.26) on the Milan bourse, just minutes before the confidence vote on the decree, which still requires a final round of approval to become law.

“Today the prime minister gave himself a present worth about e163 million,” lashed out opposition MP Paolo Gentiloni, claiming that sum quantifies Rete 4′s advertising intake for the next five months.

“What was the government supposed to do? Leave us in the clutches of a bunch of loonies who want to close us down?” countered Rete 4 anchor Emilio Fede.

Berlusconi said he wanted to get things done, claiming the media legislation was becoming very time-consuming.

Ciampi last year rejected the media law, claiming it did not create a level playing field. Besides allowing Mediaset and RAI to hold on to their three channels, the new legislation will raise the cap on ad revenue and allow cross-ownership of TV stations and papers beginning in 2009.

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