Media mogul weakened by political attack

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose media empire includes TV and film conglom Mediaset/Medusa, narrowly survived a confidence vote Tuesday in a tense political showdown that greatly weakened his political clout.

Berlusconi, who has dominated Italian politics for more than a decade while holding sway over the country’s media, won the vote in the Lower House by just three votes after winning in the Senate 162-135.

The crucial vote played out like an intense piece of political theater as brawls erupted in parliament just as an estimated 100,000 protesters calling for Berlusconi to step down marched through Rome and clashed with police.

Adding fuel to the fire Tuesday was news of a confidential diplomatic cable posted by WikiLeaks. Drafted in the American embassy in Rome on Feb. 2, it said legislation “appears to favor PM Berlusconi’s Mediaset Television service while disadvantaging Sky, one of its major competitors.”

Rupert Murdoch-owned Sky Italia and many media analysts have long criticized Berlusconi, claiming he uses his political power to favor his business interests.

The vote followed a slew of sex scandals and political infighting with former ally Gianfranco Fini, who lost his bid to oust Berlusconi.

However, with such a razor-thin majority, analysts are skeptical that Berlusconi’s conservative government will survive until the end of its mandate in 2013.

The furor did not harm Mediaset’s value — shares closed up 3.3% to €4.63 ($6.20).

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