Media Reforms in Italy

Italy's fledgling government on Thursday revealed plans to undo contested media reform laws passed by the government under former prime minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi.

Communications Minister P***o Gentiloni said in the "next few months" the government would propose legislation to overhaul competition limits, the sale of sports television broadcasting rights, the switch-off of analogue television and the future of state television.

First on the block would be the bargaining of sports broadcast rights, a change that will affect Berlusconi's television empire Mediaset and his soccer club AC Milan.

"The government is evaluating ... a return to collective negotiating of rights," Gentiloni told a parliamentary hearing. "Before the end of July, we will present a measure that will rewrite the rules on the acquisition of TV rights for football."

The system, in use elsewhere in Europe, means that a representative body negotiates broadcasting revenues on behalf of clubs and distributes it. At present, broadcasters negotiate separately with Italian clubs to show their games.

Italian clubs have negotiated their own deals since 1999, a situation that has allowed top teams such as Berlusconi's AC Milan to earn up to 10 times more than their smaller rivals.

Gentiloni said he would also be considering imposing stricter limits on the number of seasons of rights that TV companies can buy at once, cutting down from the current three years.

Officials at Mediaset declined to comment.

Undoing media legislation passed by Berlusconi was one of the main manifesto policies of Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

During Berlusconi's five years in power, centre-left critics accused him of having passed an extensive media reform, including relaxing competition rules, to aid his media empire, which spans television, radio, magazines, books and football.

Changes to the sector affect not only the Berlusconi empire but also Telecom Italia's media group, News Corp's satellite provider Sky Italia and a host of publishers such as the owner of Corriere della Sera newspaper RCS Mediagroup.

Gentiloni said the media industry overhaul would also involve pushing forward the date for the switch-over from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT) to between 2010 and 2012 from 2008. Neither would Prodi's government be subsidising DTT as Berlusconi's did, a matter that is being probed by the European Union.

RAI state television may also be split into three companies -- one commercial, one public, one a network operator -- to be controlled by a state-run holding, he added. RAI is currently state-run and non-commercial.