Italy's Antitrust Regulator Concerned About Cross-Ownership of Media Platforms

New law could allow Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset broadcaster to acquire control of a large publisher.


ROME -- Italy's main antitrust regulator officially wrote the presidents of the two houses of the Italian parliament Wednesday to express what is said was "concern" over a new law that could soon allow for increased cross-ownership of media platforms.

The so-called "milleproroghe" decree, which was passed Feb. 25, is a wide-ranging package of rules passed most years that are voted up or down as a whole. Among the items in this year's decree is an item that would allow for more cross ownership between media platforms that many in Italy say will make it easier for big media companies like Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset broadcaster to acquire control of a large publisher.

Mediaset already controls three of Italy's seven national networks as well as a leading film production and distribution company and Il Giornale, a mid-size newspaper based in Milan. But rules prohibit the company from acquiring an existing print media company such as RCS Media Group, which owns the nations leading newspaper, a top news magazine, and one of the country's largest publishing houses. Many RCS outlets have been critical of Berlusconi in the past.

Berlusconi, who is being tried in three separate trials ranging from tax fraud and abuse of power to paying for sex with an underage prostitute, is known to aggressively use his media outlets to bolster his support among the public.

The milleproroghe decree usually extends the ban on such ownership two years, and this time around the ban was originally written to be extended until the end of 2012. But just before the vote, the rules were extended only until the end of this month, giving a rise to speculation that a Mediaset bid for RCS or another large print conglomerate could be in the works.

In its letter to parliamentary leadership, the antitrust authority said it was "concerned" that the cross ownership rules could soon expire and it called for the existing limits on ownership to be extended in order to maintain strong competition among different media platforms.