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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Berlusconi 'threatens democracy' in Italy
Berlusconi
Berlusconi: Poacher and gamekeeper of Italian media
A European media freedom watchdog has said democracy is at risk in Italy, following the election victory of media magnate Silvio Berlusconi.

Freimut Duve, representative on the Freedom of the Media for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, told a conference in Germany, that the separation of powers between the government and the media was in danger of becoming blurred.

He called on Mr Berlusconi to "make a radical separation between his media firms and governmental tasks".

He added: "There is now the danger in Italy that from now on journalists will no longer be able to openly criticise the head of government."

'Disappointed' with EU

Mr Berlusconi, owner of three television networks, won Italy's general election earlier this month.

Freimut Duve
Freimut Duve says Italy may ruin his work in south-east Europe
His coalition partners have since been threatening a purge of left-wing journalists and executives from the state television company, Rai.

Mr Duve, described the independence of journalistic media from government control as a cornerstone of parliamentary democracy.

He said he was disappointed by the cautious reaction of European Union member states to the developments in Italy.

Fourteen EU states, including Italy, froze bilateral diplomatic relations with Austria after the far-right Freedom Party joined government in February last year, but that policy is now widely believed to have been a failure.

Bad example

Danish Foreign Minister Mogens Lykketoft said recently that EU states would in future respond to the way governments behave, instead of what they say.

Big changes at Rai are not expected until the two houses of the Italian parliament have appointed speakers, which is likely to be in early June.

The speakers name Rai's board of directors, three of whom traditionally come from the government camp, and two from the opposition camp.

Mr Duve's primary role is to monitor and encourage the development of democratic media climate in the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe.

He said his ability to fulfil this role on would be jeopardised if Italy gave a bad example to neighbouring states in south-east Europe.

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