Pols call PM to account for PSAs

Berlusconi's office denies Il Sole report

ROME– Is the medium the message for Silvio Berlusconi?

Italy’s TV-tycoon-turned prime minister has come under fire after a report claimed the government spent 92.2% of an estimated E5.3 million ($6.4 million) in taxpayer moolah placing public service advertising on his three-channel Mediaset web in the first quarter of 2005.

Berlusconi’s office denied the report in Milan financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore, which was based on Nielsen Italia figures.

According to the government, it paid Mediaset just over $1 million for the TV spots on topics ranging from health prevention to computer literacy.

Regardless of the discrepancy, that’s not peanuts.

Imagine Rupert Murdoch running a country and ordering $1 million worth of tax-payer-financed TV time for a breast cancer prevention campaign or similar public service campaigns on Fox or Sky?

To make matters worse, the spots could run free of charge on the government-backed pubcaster RAI’s channels.

Berlusconi refused to comment on the figures during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on May 30.

But the feisty Berlusconi did claim that running ads on RAI was far less effective than running a campaign on his Mediaset — even though RAI and Mediaset run neck and neck in the ratings.

The center-left opposition has formally requested that parliament shed more light on the issue of government ad spending.

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