Media mogul's party takes control of Lazio

ROME — Italian prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi has emerged victorious at key regional elections that critics charge were marred by a ban on political TV talkshows.

Final results on Tuesday show Berlusconi’s conservative coalition winning six regions, which means his People of Freedom Party conquered four previously held by the center-left.

The most significant new Berlusconi stronghold is Lazio, comprising Rome, the hub of Italy’s film and TV industry.

The center-left held on to seven of the 11 regions they previously governed. The vote concerned 13 out of Italy’s 20 regions.

Battered by corruption charges, sex scandals, and national economic woes, Berlusconi in the leadup to elections came under the fire for banning political talkshows on pubcaster RAI.

To circumvent the ban, one of the yakkers ousted off the airwaves, Michele Santoro’s “Annozero,” instead aired as a show on satellite feeds, including on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia, and also streamed online. It was viewed by four million Italians in what is being hailed as a landmark moment in Italy’s new media evolution.

But despite disaffection evidenced by the 64% electoral turnout, which is among Italy’s lowest ever, it’s clear that Berlusconi managed to sufficiently maintain the popularity that gave him a landslide victory in 2008.

“Nobody would have been surprised if Berlusconi had lost,” commented Stefano Folli, one of Italy’s leading analysts in financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore. “But instead he maneuvered with his usual dexterity.”

As for the impact of the vote on Italy’s showbiz sector, Lazio’s new governor Renata Polverini has vowed to streamline red tape for local and international producers tapping into recently introduced tax credits, and available regional and European coin. She also promised to fight for Rome’s single-screen arthouse cinemas, which are being shuttered.

Looming on Italy’s TV landscape is the battle between Berlusconi’s Mediaset and Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox, which is lobbying the European Union for clearance to take part in auctions for the country’s digital TV frequencies. The move is favored by the country’s media watchdog, but opposed by the government. An E.U. decision is expected in mid-April.

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