Media holdings of Italy's PM once again under scrutiny

As Silvio Berlusconi pulled his Houdini-like escape from a political deathtrap Dec. 14, surviving a confidence vote in Italy’s lower house, the connection between the country’s premier and his Mediaset TV empire was on high-def display.

Mediaset shares rose more than 4% on news of Berlusconi’s narrow victory, to close at €4.6 ($6.13).

The showdown, which many thought he would lose, sparked spectacular brawls in parliament and the worst riots in decades on Rome streets, where some 100,000 protesters torched cars, hurled cobblestones and clashed violently with cops.

Adding fuel to the fire was news of a confidential U.S. diplomatic cable posted by WikiLeaks saying recent legislation “appears to favor PM Berlusconi’s Mediaset Television service while disadvantaging Sky, one of its major competitors,” a view long-shared by Rupert Murdoch-owned satcaster Sky Italia and several Italian media outlets.

The day after the vote, an editorial in Italian broadsheet Corriere della Sera urged Italian regulators to uphold a July European Commission decision ruling that Sky Italia must be allowed to bid at an upcoming auction for the country’s DTT frequencies, a bid that Mediaset has taken action to block.

Many pundits say that despite his invincible aura, the mogul is a lame duck in the last gasps of his political career.

But given his latest act, don’t count him out just yet.

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