Berlusconi set to win referendum battle

ANDREW GUMBEL

Rome

The former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, appeared to be heading for a comfortable victory in a series of referendums called to challenge his stranglehold on private television last night, as exit polls indicated between 53 and 58 per cent of voters in favour of him holding on to his three national networks.

The exit polls also gave him victory by a similar margin in two other referendums that challenged his virtual monopoly on television advertising.

If the poll predictions are confirmed by the official results, expected today, it would give Mr Berlusconi a boost after an uncomfortable few months following his resignation as prime minister last December.

The result would be a slap in the face for centre-left groups which have lobbied to end the anomaly whereby one of the country's leading political figures wields great power over its television output. And it would herald a free-market revolution in Italian broadcasting, as a fourth referendum result also called for the privatisation of the state broadcaster, RAI.

Exit polls in Italy are not always reliable, but last night's figures seemed to be conclusive. Mr Berlusconi refused to comment, preferring to wait for the official figures. But his former government spokesman, Giuliano Ferrara, proclaimed victory immediately after the exit polls came in.

"Fifteen years of ideological warfare by the left against non-state controlled television have been buried tonight," he said.

A major shake-up of Italian television seems still to be in the offing, however. Mr Berlusconi, keen to concentrate on his political ambitions, has said he wants to sell part of his Fininvest broadcasting empire anyway, possibly to Rupert Murdoch. Italy's Constitutional Court has questioned the legality of the 1990 broadcasting act that enshrined Mr Berlusconi's private monopoly.

Parliament is expected to rewrite the broadcasting act this summer, or by next spring at the latest. It will have to set a timetable for reforms in both the private and public sectors, to establish a system of rules and provide for the introduction of modern technology such as cable and satellite, which are at a primitive stage in Italy.

The debate will focus on the referendum campaign, in which the Fininvest channels bombarded viewers with pro- Berlusconi propaganda, while celebrity presenters claimed that the public would be deprived of its favourite daytime soap-operas.

The left-wing newspaper La Repubblica urged the authorities to cancel the referendums on the grounds that the campaign had been biased. Questions are also likely concerning the number of referendums held on the same day. There were 12 in all, ranging from trade-union rules to shop-opening hours, and the turn-out was relatively low.

Less than 60 per cent of the electorate voted, clearing the 50 per cent needed for a quorum, but low by Italian standards.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen