Foes say new law targets press freedom

ROME Rupert Murdoch is championing freedom of the press in Italy, where his Sky Italia pay TV satcaster is spearheading protests against the latest media clampdown proposed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government.

Sky Italia is challenging a bill that would fine and jail journalists who publish leaked wiretaps, such as those that revealed the sex and corruption scandals that have dogged Berlusconi since last summer.

Indeed, one provision of the bill is named the “D’Addario amendment” for Patrizia D’Addario, the Italo call girl who last year made public a tape recording of her alleged bedroom romp with Berlusconi.

The bill would also severely restrict police use of wiretaps which, as fans of “The Wire” well know, are a crucial crime-busting tool.

Sky Italia said the measure, being pushed through parliament, is “a serious attack on freedom of the media and expression” and vowed to challenge its legality in the European Court of Human Rights.

This latest move continues the conflict-of-interest issues that have surrounded Berlusconi during his time as prime minister.

He controls the leading commercial channels via his Media-set terrestrial network and holds political sway over pubcaster RAI. But he hasn’t succeeded in gagging RAI’s sometimes anti-government political talkshows or Sky Italia’s “Sky TG24” news, which widely covered the D’Addario sex scandal while RAI and the Mediaset channels skated over it.

“Sky TG24,” widely considered to proved the most balanced news coverage in Italy, aired a local poll showing that 81% of respondents did not support Berlusconi’s proposed new media law.

But one influential talkshow host seems poised to give up the fight. “AnnoZero” anchor Michele Santoro — whom Berlusconi ousted from RAI in 2002 because of his left-wing views, and was subsequently reinstated by court order — has been negotiating his exit.

On his May 25 primetime show, he claimed RAI was harassing him with “blocked contracts, threats of punishment and attempts to control” the show’s contents.

Santoro came under fire last year for having D’Addario as a guest on “AnnoZero.”

Sky Italia recently came to Santoro’s rescue by airing “Anno-Zero” on Sky satellite feeds to circumvent a controversial Berlusconi ban on RAI political talkshows in the leadup to the March elections, in which Berlusconi emerged victorious.

Meanwhile, Maria Luisa Busi suddenly quit as anchor of RAI1’s flagship evening news show “TG1” last week, claiming its coverage favored Berlusconi.

Busi, who had been with RAI for 21 years, was involved in a series of heated disputes with “TG1” news editor Augusto Minzolini, who was appointed by Berlusconi last year to counter what was perceived as the show’s left-wing bias.

Minzolini was reportedly displeased because Busi failed to toe the line on Berlusconi’s handling of Italy’s recent earthquake, which critics charge Berlusconi exploited to boost his popularity.

In an open letter, Busi blasted “TG1” for being “politically slanted.”

Minzolini caustically countered: “I don’t like those who spit in the plate from which they eat. It makes sense for her to leave.”

However, “TG1’s” editorial committee expressed unease over the direction Minzolini has made “TG1” take.

“Sky TG24” news editor Emilio Carelli has also urged RAI journalists to join the effort against the Berlusconi wiretap gag law. But so far reaction from RAI journos has been muted.

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