MILAN, April 16 (Reuters) – Italy’s biggest private broadcaster Mediaset is not looking for any favours from its owner Silvio Berlusconi, who will be the country’s next prime minister, executives said on Wednesday.
“We are the first not to want to be favoured,” Chairman Fedele Confalonieri told journalists after the annual shareholders’ meeting of Mediaset, which together with state broadcaster Rai dominates Italy’s free-to-air television.
Mediaset had faced regulatory changes under the outgoing government which it had claimed would hurt revenues, but the laws were delayed in parliament.
Berlusconi won a general election this week to give the billionaire businessman his third term as prime minister — a post he should take up in around one month.
He has been criticised for the conflict of interest which his family’s business empire — which includes daily newspaper Il Giornale and AC Milan soccer team — poses for Berlusconi the politician.
“There are some issues that would make Berlusconi unelectable in Britain,” said Alastair Campbell, who was a spokesman for former Prime Minister Tony Blair. “A TV owner, conflict of interests. In the UK, this would not be possible.”
Confalonieri said Mediaset hoped for “few and clear” laws on the media sector, which would encourage all players to carry out their projects and grow both at home and abroad.
“The theme of the conflict of interest would (then) cease to be key,” Confalonieri told shareholders.
“It would become, as is natural, a risk to be kept under control and managed on the basis of existing laws,” he said.
AD SALES GROWING
Mediaset Chief Executive Giuliano Adreani said growth in key domestic Italian ad revenues could exceed 3 percent in the first quarter, but did not give any figures for the first four months.
In March, he had forecast 5 percent growth for January to April.
“(For the first quarter) we are (running) at around 3 percent, but we could do better,” Adreani said on Wednesday, speaking to reporters after the meeting.
Italian TV ad sales — which account for around two thirds of Mediaset’s revenues — grew 5 percent in the first two months of the year.
Shares in Mediaset have fallen in the last two days as the market — having priced in a victory by Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition — turned its attention to an ailing Italian economy and Mediaset’s reliance on advertising.
The stock closed up 1.38 percent on Wednesday, compared with a 2 percent gain in the DJ Stoxx index of European media companies.
“I would have liked to hear something more detailed about the first four months,” said an analyst who declined to be named. “The market has already discounted the 3 percent figure for the first quarter.”
Mediaset faces tough competition on its home market from pay-TV providers such as Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia.
Vice-Chairman Piersilvio Berlusconi, who is Silvio Berlusconi’s son, said Mediaset was discussing a sale of contents to Sky Italia but the negotiation was “complicated”.
“Sky seems determined to seal the agreement and we are not in a rush,” he said answering a question about a press report that talks had come to a halt.
He said Mediaset would soon approach Telecom Italia also to discuss the possible sale of contents.
Piersilvio Berlusconi also said he could not rule out that Dutch production company Endemol — which Mediaset bought last year with Goldman Sachs and the company’s co-founder Jon de Mol — would list in the future.