Silvio Berlusconi Again Mulls Political Run As Italian Media Empire Crumbles
The media tycoon's Mediaset has been posting losses and weaker ad revenue, pushing its stock to all-time lows and forcing it to sell off businesses.
ROME – Silvio Berlusconi’s on-again-off-again flirtation with returning to the political arena appears to be back on, barely a year after he resigned in disgrace as prime minister and less than a month after he declared he was no longer interested in leading the People of Liberty political party he founded.
The billionaire media tycoon has never been short of self-confidence. But the 76-year-old’s continued flirtations with a return to politics since he left last November amid personal and legal scandals and widespread fears his leadership would lead Italy to become a victim of the European debt crisis, appear increasingly unlikely to gain much traction with a weary Italian public.
Berlusconi, though, says he feels “called” to return to politics. He has said the policies of successor Mario Monti, the head of an appointed technocrat government expected to stay in power until elections next year, have been “disastrous.”
Berlusconi flirted with returning to office earlier in the year before announcing in October he was no longer interested in politics. But on Saturday, after a series of TV appearances in which he criticized government policies and argued that he would have been a more effective leader than Monti, he was asked if was mulling “a return to the playing field.”
His reply? “Yes, I am thinking about it” Berlusconi said, immediately touching off a flurry of speculation about his intentions in the Italian media.
The news comes weeks after Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in jail for tax fraud in a case connected with Mediaset, the beleaguered TV and cinema giant Berlusconi founded. He is still on trial in another case alleging abuse of power and paying an under-age girl for sex.
When he stepped down last year, Berlusconi vowed to dedicate himself to operations at Mediaset, the communications giant that controls three national television networks in Italy, one in Spain, the Medusa cinema production and distribution house, the country’s largest ad buying company and several print media.
But the attention has so far done little good. The company’s stock has touched all-time lows in recent weeks as ad revenue had dried up amid the country’s economic crisis. Mediaset, which had traditionally bought up smaller rivals, recently even sold its Medusa Home Video subsidiary to Warner Bros. Italia.
Mediaset is also looking to sell its stake in The Space Cinema exhibitor chain, that it co-owns with fashion company Benetton. So far, three U.K..-based cinema chains are reported to be interested in acquiring the company: Odeon, owned by financier Guy Hands, Cineworld and Vue. The Space Cinema is expected to draw a price tag of at least €300 million ($381 million) when sold.