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Italy's 5-Star vows no favours to Berlusconi on TV ad ceilings

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By Reuters
Italy's 5-Star vows no favours to Berlusconi on TV ad ceilings
FILE PHOTO: Italy's minister for the country's south, Barbara Lezzi, at her government's swearing-in ceremony in Rome, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo   -   Copyright  Tony Gentile(Reuters)

By Giselda Vagnoni

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s ruling coalition of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and far right League party will pay no regard towards ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s influential media empire, a 5-Star minister said on Tuesday.

The League governs with 5-Star but remains part of a centre-right alliance with Berlusconi at the regional level, giving rise to widespread speculation that Salvini will do nothing to offend his long-standing ally.

However, Barbara Lezzi, the 5-Star minister for Italy’s economically deprived south, said on a television show that the government must cap advertising ceilings to ensure greater media competition, despite Berlusconi’s interests.

“We will not make gifts to Berlusconi. We’ll go ahead with our reforms over the advertisement ceilings,” Lezzi told state channel RAI 3.

Berlusconi’s media realm, which includes three national television stations, radio stations, a major publishing house and numerous magazines, has exerted considerable influence on Italian politics since he first became prime minister in 1994.

League leader Matteo Salvini met Berlusconi at the tycoon’s villa near Milan on Sunday and Italian media reported that Berlusconi obtained “guarantees” over his business interests.

5-Star has always been a fierce adversary of Berlusconi, creating potential tensions in the ruling coalition that formed a government following inconclusive elections in March.

Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia (‘Go Italy’), and the League ran together at the election. Forza Italia voted against the new executive after Salvini did a deal with 5-Star, but did not break up its political alliance at the local level.

The two parties govern together in many Italian cities and regions, including the wealthy Lombardy region around Milan.

But relations between Berlusconi and Salvini have deteriorated since the election and in August Forza Italia blocked the appointment as chairman of state broadcaster RAI of eurosceptic journalist Marcello Foa, who had been proposed by the League and 5-Star.

RAI is the country’s biggest television group and competes with Mediaset, the company controlled by Berlusconi’s family.

In what was seen by some as a retaliatory move, Vito Crimi, a senior 5-Star official, said last week the government was planning to introduce ceilings on TV advertising, which would hit Berlusconi’s earnings.

Foa, who used to work for Berlusconi’s family newspaper, has been criticised by the centre-left for his strong eurosceptic and pro-Russia stances.

(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni, editing by Gavin Jones/Mark Heinrich)