Advanced Television

Italian frequency allocation breached EU law

February 5, 2008

From Branislav Pekic in Rome

The European Court of Justice has ruled that the way TV broadcasting frequencies have been distributed in Italy breaches European Union law.

Judges said that a succession of laws regulating the country’s TV had effectively favoured existing broadcasters Mediaset and RAI, barring access to would-be competitors. In short, the process for allocating frequencies ”does not follow objective, transparent and non-discriminatory selection criterion,” judges said.

The ruling has a direct bearing on a nine-year dispute involving one of the TV channels of former premier Silvio Berlusconi, which is accused of occupying the frequencies of another private network. The dispute dates back to 1999 when the Europa 7 channel received authorisation to broadcast nationally but was never allocated the frequencies it needed to do so. This was because the Rete 4 channel never switched to satellite broadcasting as it had been required to do by a 1997 law, and a media reform law passed by the Berlusconi government in 2004 enabled it to continue broadcasting.

The case went to Italy’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, which then turned to the European Court to get clarification.

Europe 7 owner Francesco Di Stefano said he now expected the Council of State to allocate it the frequencies it had been authorised to use in 1999. However, Berlusconi's Mediaset said the European ruling would have ”no consequences regarding the use of the frequencies available to Rete 4” as it was only relevant to Europa 7’s request for compensation.

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