Berlusconi reprimands state TV for attacking government

ROME Mon Aug 10, 2009 9:41am EDT

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi listens to a journalist's question as he addresses a news conference at Chigi Palace in Rome July 7, 2009. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi listens to a journalist's question as he addresses a news conference at Chigi Palace in Rome July 7, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Alessia Pierdomenico

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ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday said it was "unacceptable" for state TV to criticize the government and rebuked a left-leaning newspaper which regularly publishes lurid stories about his sex life.

Berlusconi, whose family media empire owns Italy's main independent television channels, said state-owned broadcaster RAI was always against him.

"I've been able to say what a majority of Italians think, which is that it is unacceptable that public television, paid for by all, should be the only public television that is always against the government," he told RAI radio.

As well as owning powerful broadcaster Mediaset, Berlusconi has a large majority in parliament which appoints RAI's board members, a position his critics say gives him far too much power over the media.

He attacked La Repubblica, the newspaper which has kept Italians riveted with steamy narratives by escorts of his parties and a daily list of 10 uncomfortable questions for the prime minister.

"The only thing that appears off course to me is a certain type of journalism," Berlusconi said in response to a question about articles in Repubblica suggesting Italian secret service agents had gone "off course" in their investigations.

Berlusconi has boasted that selections for RAI's top executives are made at his house. He started a Friday news conference by jokingly asking RAI journalists: "What's the atmosphere at RAI like with the directors I set up?"

The chairman of RAI's board later issued a statement saying it was the duty of journalists to report all the news.

Center-left opposition leader Dario Franceschini said Berlusconi's criticism of RAI was the "latest proof of his intention to use his economic force and the power of whoever is in government to condition and intimidate every free voice."

Berlusconi retorted that the left ought to be happy as he was asking state television not to criticize anyone -- be it the government or the opposition.

So far the opposition has yet to make much hay out of Berlusconi's scandals. Surveys show his popularity has fallen over the past few months, but he still polls 49 percent despite Italy's worst economic downturn since World War Two and the media frenzy surrounding his personal life.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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