Italy violated freedom of expression, Europe court told

12th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

A media company Wednesday told a top European court that Italy had violated its freedom of expression when it delayed giving it broadcasting frequencies for years, instead allowing channels owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to use them.

Lawyers for Centro Europa 7 argued before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that the action against them amounted to an unprecedented conflict of interest.

Although the private, Rome-based company received a national broadcasting license in 1999, for years it was not allotted the stipulated frequencies. It finally got access to frequencies in 2009.

Instead, Italian authorities several times allowed channels -- notably those owned by Berlusconi's Mediaset group -- to keep using the frequencies when they in theory should have given them up.

This perpetuated a "stranglehold of dominant operators", Roberto Mastroianni, the lawyer for the group, argued before the ECHR's Grand Chamber on Wednesday.

Mastroianni said this amounted to "a conflict of interest without precedent" as the public airwaves were in the hands of "those who own the main private group in the country, a potential competitor".

Italian government lawyer Paolo Gentili retorted that the granting of a license did not automatically mean the granting of a frequence, adding that Centro Europe 7 could have purchased frequencies from other companies.

He said that the company was driven by "mercantile" interests by bringing the case to the European court, as it had already been awarded more than one million euros by Italian courts.

The court is expected to take several months to issue its ruling, which will be final.

Italy is often criticised for the crushing dominance of broadcasters owned by either the state or Berlusconi.

The public broadcaster, Rai, and Berlusconi's Mediaset control more than 75 percent of the market in terms of audience share, the International Press Institute said in April.

© 2011 AFP

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