Italo PM regaining Mediaset control

Berlusconi taking hold of Italy's top b'caster

The very day Silvio Berlusconi protested that the left-wing opposition “forced me to sell some of my companies” to avoid conflict of interest problems when he became prime minister, Italian daily paper La Repubblica revealed the media tycoon-turned-premier is discreetly regaining the financial majority of Italy’s top broadcaster, Mediaset.

Mediaset, founded by Berlusconi in the 1970s, has been managed by his family and close affiliates of the Milanese tycoon, even after he was nominated as prime minister in 2001 and despite opposition complaints about this “outrageous” conflict of interest.

In April, Berlusconi’s private holding company Fininvest announced the time had come to make Mediaset a “real public company.” Fininvest sold 16% of the TV group, reducing its stake to 34.3% and renouncing for the first time an absolute majority.

Fininvest then started to buy back shares in Mediaset, however. So far it has acquired only 1.25%, but another 5.9% appears headed to Fininvest soon.

Also, longtime ally Capital Research, a U.S. financial fund that has worked with Berlusconi throughout his successful business career, recently acquired 7.75% of Mediaset.

The absolute majority of Italy’s top broadcasting group will be back in Berlusconi’s hands very soon, analysts say. And April’s statement by Mediaset prexy Fedele Confalonieri, a close Berlusconi associate, seems already a distant memory: “The equation that Mediaset is Berlusconi is no more correct.”