Prime minister given too much airtime

MILAN — Italian broadcasters have been rapped on the knuckles by TV watchdog Agcom for giving too much airtime to prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Agcom says since April’s general election, Mediaset’s Canale 5 has consistently broken the gentlemen’s agreement that says the government, the majority political grouping and the opposition should each receive a third of the political coverage on news broadcasts.

An Agcom survey found that in May, Canale 5 dedicated around 43% of coverage to Mediaset owner Berlusconi or his government. A month later that figure rose to over 50%.

More surprising was the finding that state-owned Rai Due gave too much time to the government in its news broadcasts. In the past Rai Due’s news has been accused of anti-Berlusconi bias.

But predictably, Mediaset’s Rete 4 channel also was in the spotlight. Agcom figures suggest that in June, the combined time it gave to Berlusconi and his government was 55%. In the run-up to this year’s April general election, Agcom threatened to fine Rete 4 $400,000 for pro-Berlusconi bias.

The latest figures, for September, show some Mediaset programs giving the government 70% of available airtime compared to just 17% for the opposition.

Agcom noted that as the general election period was over, the apparent “imbalance” might be considered less serious. It called on broadcasters, however, to observe accepted norms on “impartiality and objectiveness.” But in the absence of financial penalties media analysts say it’s not clear much will change.

Nor is the media-mogul premier likely to lose much sleep over the Agcom report. In the midst of this year’s general election, Berlusconi brushed aside conflict of interest accusations with the assertion that such concerns were “not an issue for the Italian people.”

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