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Silvio Berlusconi attacks RAI

Italian premier questions news coverage

Italy’s media mogul Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is facing fresh conflict of interest accusations following reports that he berated leading industrialists for advertising on pubcaster RAI — rival to his own Mediaset TV empire.

“I don’t know how you accept having your adverts placed during programs that only spread panic and mistrust,” Berlusconi was reported as saying in a reference to RAI’s coverage of the current unrest over his government’s education reforms.

There were further protests when the center-left La Repubblica newspaper reported that Berlusconi had, at the same meeting, defended the decision of some TV viewers to evade the obligatory RAI TV license fee.

Sen. Luigi Zanda of the rival center-left Democratic Party said, “This amounts to a serious conflict of interest.” He added that he would lodge an official complaint with the Antitrust Authority.

Carlo Verna, head of the RAI journalists union, said the prime minister was guilty of “a shameful and irresponsible” attempt to worsen the pubcaster’s financial problems.

Defending Berlusconi, Sen. Maurizio Gasparri of the prime minister’s ruling PDL party said the spat was created to discredit Berlusconi, and he accused Verna of “keeping quiet about the activities of the Stalinists” working at RAI.

Berlusconi hasn’t commented — and he’s not likely to.

The Mediaset topper, who dominates Italy through his control of both chambers of parliament, in addition to his broadcast and publishing businesses, is on record as saying that he doesn’t think conflict of interest is an issue for ordinary Italians.