Journos questioned about Berlusconi bias

'TG3' staffers strike as authorities probe co-workers

This article was corrected May 13, 2003.

ROME — The already rocky relationship between Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the media became even more stormy Thursday, when pubcaster RAI sent two internal investigators to probe journalists and editors on newscast “TG3” for alleged bias against him.

The raid came three days after the media mogul-turned-politico appeared in a Milan court on charges of bribing judges in 1985 to help him take over giant state food company SME.

He denied the accusation and was not questioned by the magistrates but was heckled by a bystander as he left the court. To Berlusconi’s irritation, “TG3” reported the event — and he promptly accused the show of bias.

Angry “TG3” staffers went on strike in support of their colleagues.

The show remains a bastion of the left wing in a pubcaster dominated by political appointees nominated by Berlusconi and his right-center ruling coalition. Berlusconi still controls the country’s major commercial broadcaster Mediaset, giving him a virtual lock on the boob tube.

The “TG3” raid angered journalists’ groups and Berlusconi’s political opponents.

“The situation is getting out of hand and is leading to a systematic repression of freedom of information,” the secretary general of Italy’s Press Federation, Paolo Serventi, said Thursday.

Berlusconi said, “There is a difference between freedom of expression and freedom to libel,” approving the RAI decision to send in the police.

On Wednesday, a parliamentary commission proposed jailing reporters for up to three years for libel. Berlusconi and his allies have also demanded that members of Parliament and the government be given immunity from prosecution.

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