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Ex-Minister causes a stir in Italy

Mediaset's ad volume possibly tampered with

ROME — When you’re out of favor, nothing you do is right.

The Italo media watchdog, based on a meticulous monitoring, claims that ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset is systematically violating the country’s vague sound regulations.

The top Italo commercial web, it says, has been deliberately raising volume levels during one-third of its spots, while pubcaster RAI and smaller webs are behaving better, though not entirely by the book.

Sound blasts during commercial breaks actually are a blight that irks TV viewers in several parts of the world, including the U.S. Usually the invasive surges are attributed to how commercials are recorded — sound is mixed at max allowed levels throughout a spot, while levels during programming are more nuanced — rather than to broadcasters pumping up the volume at ad time.

Mediaset, the main culprit, reaps 55% of Italy’s TV advertising revenue, its share of the pie being worth a massive $4.4 billion in 2006. The three-channel web has not commented on the watchdog’s allegations.

The TV ad blare brouhaha started brewing last year, after Berlusconi and his conservative bloc lost the elections. In August 2006, leftist communications minister Paolo Gentiloni fired off a warning to broadcasters about the volume at which they were airing commercials, calling the practice “an illicit and arrogant form of disrespect toward TV viewers.” He asked the authority to intervene.

A year later after another official warning and a monitoring period, the watchdog on Aug. 21 said it had caught Mediaset and — to a lesser degree — RAI, red-handed and summoned all Italo broadcasters to his office to thrash out the thorny issue about which there are no real Italo rules. Now the idea is to come up with firm measures to quash the sound surges by 2008.

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