Berlusconi gets tough on TV critics ahead of March elections

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London, Feb 11 (ANI): Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has come down hard on TV critics ahead of regional elections slated to be held in March - the new rules mean that talk shows will either scrap their political content or their timings will be changed.

The ruling PDL Party, which has a majority on the parliamentary watchdog that supervises public broadcaster RAI, forced the new rules.

Programmes like Ballarò and Annozero, which have constantly held Berlusconi accountable for alleged sex scandals and even Mafia links, will be the most affected by the new rules.

Political content has been allowed under a condition - if all 30 or so parties contesting the elections are represented on every show.

However, programme-makers say this would make their formats unworkable.

The rules will be effective from February 28 until March 28, when Italy's regional elections are held.

Government supporters have stressed on the necessity of the rule.

"The rules mean that the analysis programmes can choose. They can give political platforms [to everyone] or be broadcast at different times and in different ways," the Independent quoted Marco Beltrandi of the PDL, as saying.

However, Fabrizio Morri of the opposition Democratic Party said the ruling centre-right coalition had "voted for the suppression of journalistic analysis".

He added: "This sort of censorship wouldn't happen in a proper democratic country....I doubt very much whether the communications watchdog will cancel Matrix or any other of Mediaset's political shows."

The Prime Minister owns the Mediaset empire, which runs three of the six principal Italian terrestrial TV channels.

Carlo Verna, secretary of the RAI journalists' union, said: "They're threatening the very purpose for which public service broadcasting exists. It's absurd." (ANI)

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