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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 05:52 GMT
Berlusconi tightens grip on media
Silvio Berlusconi at Lake Como
Berlusconi critics say his media influence is already too wide
The Italian Senate has approved a controversial measure which allows Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to consolidate his media domination.

A total of 155 senators voted the media bill into law, with 128 against.

One provision of the bill is to reverse a court ruling that Mr Berlusconi's Mediaset company must sell off one of its three TV stations by 1 January.

The centre-left opposition said it planned to hold a demonstration against the law in Rome on Wednesday.

The opposition has urged Italy's president not to sign the bill, arguing that it was unconstitutional.

"From today we are all a little less free... the law worsens all the ills of our television system: little competition, fading quality and progressive restriction of pluralism," said Paolo Gentiloni of the opposition Margherita party.

However, the government says the new law will help to increase competition, keep pace with technology and provide greater choice with many more satellite channels.

The bill was delayed for several months, as opposition legislators tabled amendments forcing the bill to be sent back and forth between the Senate and the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies.

To become law in Italy, any bill has to be passed in identical form by both houses.

Profitability increase

The bill contains a number of different provisions, including the creation of multi-channel digital broadcasting.

It will also lift the ban on cross-ownership of broadcast and print media in 2009 and increase the amount of advertising that one single company can have.

Both measures will increase the profitability of Mr Berlusconi's companies.

But correspondents say an amendment passed by the lower house in October banning children under 14 from appearing in TV ads is likely to cause problems for Mediaset.

Mr Berlusconi is Italy's richest man, and as well as his three Mediaset channels - Italia 1, Rete 4 and Canale 5 - he holds political influence at the board of state broadcaster Rai.

Through a holding company, Fininvest, he also has press interests at the Panorama and Il Giornale papers, publishing interests at Mondadori publishing house and cinema rights

The BBC's Frances Kennedy reports from Rome
"The government says it is simply keeping pace with technology"

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