Berlusconi tries to control Italian network

Negative media coverage spurs action from prime minister

Six months after taking office for the third time, Silvio Berlusconi is back to his media-manipulating ways. In recent months Italy’s TV tycoon-turned-prime minister has:

n brazenly attempted to dissuade local business leaders from buying spots on rival net RAI;

  • vowed to stop RAI from spreading “pessimism,” and railed that the pubcaster isn’t giving his conservative government a fair shake;

n slammed news show “Annozero” (Year Zero), which scored an all-time record 20% primetime share on RAI-2 by giving student protestersan opportunity to vent alongside opposition leader Walter Veltroni. Berlusconicomplained government reps had not been invited, though actually the students and Veltroni duked it out with a government pol and a journo from Berlusconi-owned daily Il Giornale.

What’s been getting Berlusconi’s goat is RAI’s coverage of the massive student protests prompted by his government’s cuts in education funding, with millions marching in cities across the country.

On Nov. 3 neofascist guerrillas, some wearing balaclavas, raided RAI’s Rome headquarters in protest against another show called “Chi L’ha Visto?,” which had aired footage showing right-wingers physically attacking leftist students during a demonstration in Rome’s Piazza Navona.

While Italy’s press association FNSI condemned the raid, Berlusconi’s main preoccupation seems to be making sure he gets his paws back on RAI.

Since being elected in May, Berlusconi has been unable to appoint a new regime at RAI due to an impasse with the opposition. Parliament last week failed for the 34th consecutive time to elect a chief of the parliamentary commission overseeing the pubcaster.

However, opposition Senator Felice Belisario predicts, “There is no doubt that we will soon be seeing Berlusconi’s nth move to make Mediaset stronger at RAI’s expense.”

Meanwhile, Mediaset CEO Fedele Confalonieri has been championing the net to run reassuring stories — “a bit of Frank Capra,” as Confalonieri puts it — that can serve keep people’s minds off the global financial crisis and also help Mediaset’s plunging ratings. In Italy’s September/October autumn sweeps, Mediaset’s flagship Canale 5 channel fell behind RAI-1’s winning 22% primetime rating.

Curiously, Mediaset’s biggest flop lately is a hospital skein titled “Crimini Bianchi.” A far cry from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Crimini” is centered around medical malpractice cases, which are plentiful in Italy. The show, which sought to capitalize on widespread mistrust toward local doctors, was pulled from Canale 5 after disappointing ratings.

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