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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 21:46 GMT
Italians rally against media bill
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
The law means Mr Berlusconi will not have to sell a station
Critics of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have rallied in protest at a bill allowing the tycoon to strengthen his hold on the media.

Opponents say the legislation backed by the Senate on Tuesday erodes the pluralism and freedom of the media.

The bill reverses a court ruling which would have forced the PM's own Mediaset company to sell off one of its three TV stations by 1 January.

The government says the bill will provide greater choice.

From today we are all a little less free
Paolo Gentiloni
Margherita party
It was passed by the upper house of parliament after being approved in October by the lower house, or Chamber of Deputies.

President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi now has 30 days to decide whether to sign it into law or apply his veto, forcing a new vote.

Last year the president delivered a special message to parliament on the importance of a free and pluralistic media as a cornerstone of democracy and opposition MPs have urged him not to sign the "unconstitutional" bill.

The BBC's Rome correspondent, Frances Kennedy, notes that political analysts say the president has spoken out strongly about the importance of a free media system but think he would be reluctant to provoke a government crisis by sending the law back to parliament.

Protests

There have been protests throughout Italy against the new law with the largest in Rome, where several thousand people gathered near the Pantheon on Wednesday.

Protesters also gathered at a train station in Florence and a square in central Bologna.

Paolo Gentiloni, of the centre-left opposition party Margherita, said on Tuesday that the bill would make Italians "a little less free".

"The law worsens all the ills of our television system: little competition, fading quality and progressive restriction of pluralism," he said.

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.

Profitable bill

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.




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



SEE ALSO:
Immunity challenge to Berlusconi
25 Sep 03  |  Europe
Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
02 Jul 03  |  Europe
Country profile: Italy
18 Nov 03  |  Country profiles


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