Italian lawmakers OK loosening media rules

ROME — The Italian Parliament has endorsed controversial media legislation set to radically deregulate the country’s airwaves and bolster the dominant position of TV tycoon and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset.

The long-in-the-works rules, which raise the cap on broadcast advertising and ease limits on how many stations each TV player can own, were rejected last year by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who claimed they stifled competition.

Having undergone some minor changes, they have been passed and will soon become effective. Under Italian law, Ciampi cannot veto them again.

Besides putting a 20% cap on the total share of the media market revenue that a single company can hold — instead of a 30% cap placed solely on TV revenue — the new law will allow cross-ownership of webs and newspapers in 2010 and optimistically sees Italy shifting to terrestrial digital TV by 2006.

It also mandates that pubcaster RAI be partially privatized starting next year and strengthens the dominance of the country’s top media mogul — Berlusconi.

Besides Mediaset, which is Italy’s top commercial web, Berlusconi’s $7.8 billion family holding firm Fininvest includes Medusa Film; the Mondadori publishing group, with some 50 magazines; and the Jumpy Internet portal.

In related news, respected news anchor Lilli Gruber in Italy has left “Tg1,” RAI’s main evening news show, accusing it of tailoring news to the conservative government’s position.

She intends to run for the European Union elections for the Olive Tree, the center-left coalition that is the main opposition to Berlusconi’s center-right government.

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