Clash of the Titans: Murdoch v. Berlusconi

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 3/19/2008 12:56:00 AM
Well this certainly looks interesting: Rupert Murdoch is taking his case to the European Commission against Silvio Berlusconi, the once and likely future Italian prime minister and owner of large chunks of the country over rights to air Italian football events. It's not the first time that Berlusconi has incurred the wrath of the EC over conflicts of interest as Silvio has his fingers in pretty much every pie in Italy as you'll read below. Interesting stuff, and things should heat up even further if and when Berlusconi regains the PM's office. From the Financial Times:

The Murdoch media group has begun a battle over football broadcasting rights that could bring it into conflict with its main Italian rival, Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister and television mogul.

Rupert Murdoch’s Sky­Italia has filed a complaint against Italy at the European Commission, claiming that a law adopted last month infringes competition law and favours Mediaset, the Berlusconi family’s television company.

Should Mr Berlusconi, the centre-right opposition leader, return to power as prime minister after parliamentary elections next month, as opinion polls indicate, then Italy’s lack of a conflict of interest law is set to revive tensions between Rome and Brussels. Mr Berlusconi is also the owner of AC Milan, one of Italy’s leading football clubs, and has close connections to the football league’s governing body.

Brussels has already opened infringement proceedings against Italy over the Gasparri communications law that was passed by the previous Berlusconi government.

Sky Italia’s satellite broadcasting, which relies on the pull of its football coverage, contributes 11 per cent of the revenues of NewsCorp.

In both Mediaset and NewsCorp, the two moguls’ offspring are playing growing roles in running the family business. The decision to resort to Brussels was made by James Murdoch, son of the media magnate, who has focused on Sky’s Italian business after taking on NewsCorp’s European operations in December.

The football broadcasting law challenged by Sky was passed by the outgoing centre-left government to provide a fairer distribution of income among clubs and in response to a match-fixing scandal.

Sky sees the law as an unprecedented intervention into markets. The law gives the powers of collective bargaining over broadcasting rights, starting with the 2010-2011 season, to the Lega Calcio, the football league authority. Individual clubs hold rights to production and filming.

“This is clearly a violation of competition law through collective selling,” said a source close to Sky, which lodged its complaint with the European Competition Commission on 21 February. “We want to go all the way to eliminate this law.”

Sky Italia’s pay television is limited to satellite broadcasting as part of the terms of its creation in 2003. Mediaset said it was aware of Sky’s complaint to Brussels but had no comment. The communications ministry, author of the law, said it defended the satellite broadcasting rights of Sky.