Berlusconi pulls the trigger to silence TV critics ahead of forthcoming elections

Silvio Berlusconi’s supporters in the Italian parliament Wednesday night outraged opposition MPs and journalists with a controversial clampdown on political talk shows ahead of next month’s regional elections. The ruling PDL Party’s majority on the parliamentary watchdog that oversees public broadcaster RAI forced through rules that mean the state broadcaster’s most popular talk shows will have to scrap their political content – or face a transfer from mid-evening to graveyard shifts. Programmes such as Ballarò and Annozero, which have frequently held Mr Berlusconi to account for alleged sex scandals and even Mafia links, will be the main victims of the month-long clamp down that prompted accusations of censorship. Political content will be allowed – but only if all 30 or so parties standing in the elections are represented on every show, which programme-makers said would make their formats unworkable. The rules will apply from 28 February until 28 March, when the country’s regional elections are held. The Prime Minister, whose Mediaset empire owns three of the six principal Italian terrestrial TV channels – some of which have been censured for pro-government bias – has often complained that RAI shows attack him unfairly. But Fabrizio Morri of the opposition Democratic Party said the ruling centre-right coalition had “voted for the suppression of journalistic analysis”.

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