Network 'blasphemy' draws Italy fine


ROME -- In a ruling considered unusual even by Italian standards, Italy's two largest broadcasters have been fined for "blasphemy" by the communications regulator here for language uttered on a pair of reality shows.

The Catholic Church always has played a role in Italy, which contains Vatican City within its borders, but observers think this is the first time an Italian network has been fined for airing dialogue that included taking God's name in vain.

The €100,000 ($133,000) sanctions levied Thursday on Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset and state broadcaster RAI are not large by the standards of the Communications Authority, but a spokesman for the Rome-based regulator said the ruling should serve as a warning to the two broadcasting giants.

"This is not an issue of quality but one about what is acceptable and not acceptable on the public airwaves," the spokesman said Thursday in an interview.

RAI officials declined comment when contacted. Mediaset's press office did not immediately return phone calls.

The programs in question are "Celebrity Survivor," which aired on RAI-2, and "Big Brother," from Mediaset's flagship station Canale 5.

The situations were very similar. Contestants on both programs used strong curse words during live programming in primetime shows that aired in October and November, respectively. The offending contestants were immediately kicked off the programs, and reruns of the scenes recorded over the offensive language.

But the damage had been done, as the Vatican complained about both cases publicly and consumer advocacy groups followed suit. RAI issued a public apology after the program aired and Mediaset said it did everything to rectify the problem, which it said was beyond its control.

The two networks will have 60 days to appeal the decision.