ROME Jan 10 Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti is getting preferential treatment from state broadcaster RAI and other channels as he campaigns in February's election, Italy's telecommunications watchdog said on Thursday.
Monti shed his image as a non-partisan technocrat when he announced last month he would seek a second term in office and has been campaigning furiously at the head of a coalition of centrist parties ahead of the Feb 24-25 vote.
The former European Commissioner replaced Silvio Berlusconi at the head of an unelected government in November 2011 as Italy tottered on the brink of Greek-style debt crisis.
Italy's borrowing costs have fallen steeply under Monti's leadership and investors and European partners would like to see him continue in power, though opinion polls suggest ordinary Italians are less convinced.
The telecoms authority AGCOM said that after two weeks of the campaign there had been unacceptably uneven coverage of the parties contesting the election and called for an "immediate adjustment".
In particular, it said Monti was being given too much air time on the news programmes of two of RAI's three channels and was also getting the lion's share of coverage on private broadcasters Sky Italia and La 7.
Berlusconi, a media tycoon, has also been appearing daily on television and AGCOM chastised his own broadcaster, Mediaset, for favouring his People of Freedom party (PDL).
Most recent polls give Monti's centrists around 15 percent of the vote, lagging Berlusconi's centre-right with around 26 percent and Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left which has a commanding lead at around 38 percent.
AGCOM said that if its "strong call" for more balanced coverage was not heeded it would take more concrete action, which in the first instance would involve fines for the offending broadcasters. (Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Mark Heinrich)