Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset was fined E250,000 ($300,000) on Monday for giving its boss too much airtime in the lead up to the national elections on April 9 and 10.
The media regulator said Mediaset’s Rete4 web violated balanced coverage rules known as par conditio — Latin for “equal conditions.” The ruling came on the same day that Berlusconi and his center-left challenger Romano Prodi faced off in their final TV debate on pubcaster RAI.
Prodi is slightly ahead in the polls.
It’s the third time Mediaset has been sanctioned by the watchdog in three weeks.
Berlusconi owns a majority stake in Mediaset and holds sway over RAI, whose management is politically appointed. The two broadcasters account for 90% of the Italian TV market.
Berlusconi — who until recently was hitting talkshows on Mediaset and RAI almost daily — has had much more airtime than Prodi during the campaign.
Between January and mid-March, Mediaset gave Berlusconi 10 hours of airtime compared with 90 minutes for Prodi, according to newspaper Corriere della Sera.
While Prodi said he intentionally kept a lower media profile than Berlusconi, he has also complained that he did not intend it to be that low.
Berlusconi’s control over Italian airwaves has been a hot-button electoral issue, with the opposition vowing that if it wins it will draft a law to ensure that media ownership and political power are incompatible.