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Page last updated at 23:55 GMT, Saturday, 3 October 2009 00:55 UK

Italians rally for press freedom

Press freedom rally in Rome 3.10.09
Italian media unions organised the mass rally

Tens of thousands of Italians have protested in Rome against what they say are threats to press freedom by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

They say his decision to sue newspapers for their coverage of alleged scandals involving young women reveals his contempt for free speech.

Demonstrators also allege Mr Berlusconi has too much control over the media.

Mr Berlusconi called the protest a farce, saying press freedom was greater in Italy than any other Western nation.

Organisers said more than 300,000 people took part in the protest in Rome's central Piazza del Popolo, although city officials put the figure at nearer 60,000.

Slogans

"Berlusconi is bad for Italy's health," read one banner, while a slogan on some protesters' T-shirts said: "Now you can sue me too".

"We ask the prime minister to stop the campaign of accusations against journalists and to tell the truth," Franco Siddi, head of the Italian Press Federation, told the rally.

Silvio Berlusconi (file image)
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi dismissed the protest as a farce

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Rome says concerns about Mr Berlusconi's influence on Italian media are not new but reaction to it on the scale of Saturday's protest is.

In August, the prime minister launched legal action against media outlets across Europe for their coverage of his private life.

Mr Berlusconi, who owns three of Italy's seven free-to-air TV channels, has also urged businessmen to stop placing ads in newspapers and magazines that attack him.

His critics say he also exerts considerable influence over state television RAI.

In its 2009 survey, media research group Freedom House downgraded Italy to the "partly free" category and placed it 73rd out of 195.

Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which publishes its own survey this month, says Italy is faring worse than any other EU country.



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