As we all know, Silvio Berlusconi, the septuagenarian media magnate turned politician with a penchant for young girls, thrives on controversy. It seems that you either love him or hate him. I am obviously in the hate him camp.
I have just come from a debate in the European Parliament on a resolution on “Freedom of Information in Italy”, i.e. do we think Berlusconi has too much power over the media there by controlling too many outlets at the same time as being Prime Minister. The debate raised strong emotions and the Chamber was, unusually, awash with real feeling. Passion at last.
The Chamber also divided along left/right lines – again something which does not always happen. The centre-right EPP supported Berlusconi with an enthusiasm I have rarely seen in Parliamentary debates. You will by now not be surprised to learn that Berlusconi’s Forza Italia Party is, in fact, a member of the European People’s Party (perhaps tarnishing their moderate right credentials). Even so, EPP Leader Joseph Daul was positively ecstatic in his speech opening the debate, a stance I doubt he would have taken had he not really believed in what he was saying.
The Socialist and Democratic Group position was very clear. We believe Berlusconi, whose Mediaset is the largest private television and communications group in Italy and who also indirectly controls the state broadcaster RAI, has far too much power. He is obviously not the only person or organisation in this position. Speaking in the debate, I drew attention to Rupert Murdoch whose international media empire owns more than its fair share of television and newspapers in the UK.
The S&D Group wants an EU Directive on media concentration and media pluralism, a straightforward demand which I, as Co-ordinator on the Culture Committee, which has responsibility for media issues, intend to pursue.
The Liberal Group, the Greens and the GUE (Communist Group) support the S&D view while the Tories’ European Conservatives and Reformists along with the other right wing groups are with the EPP.
The Commissioner responsible for media matters is Vivian Reding from Luxembourg, who spoke both at the start and finish of the debate. Although she appeared supportive to the S&D view, she is concerned about the legal base for such a measure. I would hope this can be sorted out so that the EU can take decisive action to ensure that the people of Europe have access to a wide range of information containing many and varied views. It is quite simply not possible to have a strong democracy when the majority of the media which they see and reads puts forward only one side of a very limited story.