Italian leader's media interests spark heated EU debate
Debate in the parliament in Brussels was marked by yelling matches, insults and theatrical walkouts, with Italian lawmakers siding with their leader.Brussels -- Controversy over Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's media interests sparked angry debate and walkouts in the European parliament Thursday, with deputies calling for tough new media ownership laws.
Debate in the parliament in Brussels was marked by yelling matches, insults and theatrical walkouts, with Italian lawmakers siding with their leader after failing to have the session cancelled.
"This debate is an absurd farce," said Mario Mauro, head of the group of Italian lawmakers in the conservative European People's Party bloc, the biggest in the assembly.
"You are using lies to cast your adversary as someone who is dangerous," he said to socialist, green and liberal deputies.
"Go to Tehran, bunch of cowards. Freedom of the press is really under threat there," yelled Mario Borghezio, from the anti-immigrant Northern League, part of Berlusconi's governing coalition, his armed raised in the air.
But supporters of tighter media ownership rules warn that media ownership in Europe is becoming concentrated in fewer hands, particularly in the broadcast sector.
"We need freedom of the press everywhere in Europe," said Austrian lawmaker Hans-Peter Martin, who is not tied to any political bloc in the assembly.
Others underlined the "Italian anomaly" in which the head of government is also the country's biggest media owner.
Berlusconi owns the three biggest commercial television stations, controls state television, owns a newspaper with his family, a magazine Panorama, a major publishing house and an advertising agency.
"This conflict of interests is the problem," said German Socialist deputy Martin Schulz.
The debate comes after months of revelations about Berlusconi's private life which have spurred the prime minister-cum-media tycoon to file a series of lawsuits against newspapers in Italy, France and Spain.
Berlusconi has been dogged by scandals over his private life, from questions over his relationship with an aspiring teen model to and allegations involving call girls.