Mediaset reprieve

Berlusconi mulls plan after recent crisis

Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset TV empire looks likely to benefit from Italy’s sudden government crisis, which President Giorgio Napolitano began to try to resolve with a first round of talks Thursday.

While it’s unlikely Berlusconi will be back in the prime minister’s seat any time soon, Wednesday’s resignation of Prime Minister Romano Prodi halts plans for a media law Mediaset had blasted as punitive.

Shares in Mediaset, which jumped 1.3% on the Milan bourse on news of the crisis Wednesday, rose 0.3%, closing at e9.17 ($12) on Thursday.

“There is very little political risk for Mediaset now,” said a Milan media analyst who noted that even if Prodi, as expected, is given a second chance, a new center-left government would lack the muscle to pass the bill.

Known as the Gentiloni law after Communications Minister Paolo Gentiloni, the media bill imposed a 45% market share advertising cap, which Mediaset chairman Fedele Confalonieri earlier this week complained could cost the web up to $1 billion in lost revenues.

The 9-month-old Prodi government fell Wednesday when it failed to muster support in the Senate over Italy’s hotly contested mission to Afghanistan.

Rather than call early elections, which could see Berlusconi as the winner, President Napolitano is expected to either try to form a new Prodi government or opt for a short-term “technical government” with bipartisan support.

Berlusconi on Thursday said he is against trying to resuscitate the Prodi government but did not rule out the second option, which would give him more time to gear up for a re-election campaign.

The media mogul and former prime minister lost the election in April by a very narrow margin, following five years at the helm of Italy’s longest postwar government.

(Bernhard Warner in Rome contributed to this report.)

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