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Silvio shut out of telecoms

Minister acts on Mediaset rumors

ROME — As Italian lawmakers agitate about the prospect of an American-led investment troupe buying a stake in the former state-run monopoly Telecom Italia, the communications ministry has ruled out one local investor from keeping it out of foreign hands: Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset.

For the past 10 days, the Italian press and politicians on both the right and left have been decrying a proposed deal naming telcoms giants AT&T and America Movil of Mexico as buyers of a minority stake in the heavily indebted Telecom Italia.

Selling to outsiders even a part of TI, which not only controls the Italian telecoms sector but is expanding rapidly into digital TV and has a growing terrestrial TV presence with web La 7, has generated stiff government opposition, with some political officials making calls for Berlusconi’s Mediaset to step in.

But, communications minister Paolo Gentiloni has now vowed to block any attempt by Mediaset to get involved on grounds it would very likely violate Italy’s anti-trust laws. An attempted investment, he told Repubblica TV, “would provoke a much stricter anti-trust review.”

Mediaset has been telling investors this year it is adopting an expansionist policy as the Italian TV ad market continues to slump, weighing heavily on the firm’s bottom line. One much discussed takeover candidate for Mediaset is “Big Brother” producer Endemol, but analysts also have been speculating Mediaset may make a move into the telecoms sector by taking a stake in Italy’s small, but growing, IPTV market.

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