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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Berlusconi rejects criticism
Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi presides over an empire worth around $12bn
Italy's prime minister in waiting, Silvio Berlusconi, has rejected criticism over possible conflict between his media holdings and future political office.


The judiciary has been infiltrated by judges who have used it politically

Silvio Berlusconi
Speaking at a rally in Turin, Mr Berlusconi defended his media companies and said the criticism was based on the views of what he called a "politically infiltrated judiciary".

"Mediaset's TV stations excluded themselves from the political struggle," he said.

"However, with the public broadcaster the opposite happened, because public television has been occupied militarily by the ruling left," he added.

Criticism

His comments came after strong criticism by a senior European official, who said media freedom was being endangered in Italy.

Freimut Duve
Freimut Duve says Italy may ruin his work in south-east Europe
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.

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

The European official described the independence of 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.

Bad example

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

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 would be jeopardised if Italy set a bad example to neighbouring states in south-east Europe.

Mr Berlusconi has previously promised to take measures to resolve the conflict between his political office and business interests during the first 100 days of his presidency.

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