Right-wing leader Fini named as candidate

ROME — Silvio Berlusconi made Italian headlines over the weekend when the feisty former premier named a likely political successor and announced plans for a massive demonstration against a proposed media law that could downsize his Mediaset TV empire.

The 70-year-old Berlusconi, who had heart surgery in the U.S. last month, said right-wing leader Gianfranco Fini would be the best candidate to succeed him as leader of the conservative bloc.

The rare remarks are considered the first time the media-mogul turned-politician has admitted he may give up his leadership role.

Speaking at a gala following Italy’s Telegatti TV prizes, Berlusconi also called the media law, being drafted by Italy’s center-left government, “a criminal aggression against Mediaset,” and vowed to “get 5 million demonstrators” to rally against it.

“The real monopolist is Rupert Murdoch, not Mediaset or RAI. They are just midgets,” newspaper La Repubblica also quoted Berlusconi as opining.

The proposed media law intends to lower the advertising cap to 45% of the market, down from an estimated 66%, and to force both Mediaset and pubcaster RAI to each shed one of their three terrestrial channels.

Murdoch’s News Corp. operates Sky Italia, Italy’s sole, steadily growing paybox, which recently reached 4 million subs as it starts to make a definite dent in terrestrial ratings.

Italy’s center-left prime minister Romano Prodi rebuked Berlusconi’s lashing, saying his demonstration would be “a very strange one, organized for purely personal interests.”

Berlusconi then backpedaled in a statement correcting his remarks, saying he would organize a demonstration only if an ongoing parliamentary investigation were to prove vote tampering in the April election, which he lost.

There was no immediate comment from Sky Italia.

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