Murdoch's Italian TV deal 'within days'

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation may reach a deal to buy a controlling stake in Silvio Berlusconi's three Italian television channels within the next few days.

Executives from News Corp and their advisers have looked through Fininvest's books, and appear ready to reach a deal at around pounds 1.75bn, provided Mr Murdoch's company gets a controlling stake.

The two media moguls, who met over the weekend for six hours, said they had discussed "two or three" ways a deal might be structured. The two companies are now in detailed talks about price and terms.

Mr Murdoch himself said at the weekend that he would be willing to work in partnership with Mr Berlusconi, but pointed out that political pressures in Italy would require the Italian tycoon-turned-politician to reduce his stake considerably.

It is thought likely that Mr Murdoch will seek other Italian partners, possibly a bank, to help finance the acquisition.

Mr Berlusconi is also discussing a possible deal with Saudi Prince al- Walid bin Talal, the investor who stepped in to help the ailing Euro Disney theme park near Paris. Sources close to Mr Murdoch said "it is too early to tell" whether those talks might scupper progress made by News Corp and Fininvest in recent weeks.

Mr Berlusconi may prefer Mr Murdoch as a partner, however, provided the price is right. With the Fox network in the US and a new cable venture in Australia in addition to his strong UK position, Mr Murdoch and his team would bring unquestioned expertise to the Italian venture.

The Italian channels also have much in common with Mr Murdoch's other television interests. Sports, films and serials, which dominate BSkyB in the UK and Fox in the US, also feature strongly in Mr Berlusconi's output.

Murdoch-watchers also point out that the media mogul's easy run with regulators in the US and the UK may finally be coming to an end, and suggest there may be advantages in expanding in Continental Europe.

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