ROME Thousands of Italians rallied to demand
reform of the country's news media on Friday, taking aim at
prime minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi and the power he and
vested interests wield over the country's TV and media
Anti-politics comic Beppe Grillo led the colourful "V-day"
protest, where he urged followers to tell Italy's political
class -- and the media outlets he accused of taking orders from
them -- to "Vaffanculo" ("F... off").
Grillo, a mop-haired, pot-bellied blogger, has ridden a
wave of disillusionment to become Italy's most popular
political critic. In a rant that lambasted politicians of all
leanings, he said Berlusconi's dominance of the media would be
unthinkable in other countries.
"Imagine if (Barack) Obama as president was also the owner
of Fox, of ABC and other TV networks," Grillo said in the
northern city of Turin, addressing a crowd that organisers
estimated at least 45,000.
Critics say Berlusconi as prime minister -- through his
family-controlled Mediaset empire and through state television
RAI -- will at least indirectly control nearly 90 percent of
Italy's television audience.
Berlusconi denies a conflict of interest and frequently
describes himself as the victim of attacks by Italy's news
outlets, which he says mostly lean-left.
Grillo collected signatures for a referendum to abolish
public financing for the news media, to eliminate the Italy's
Order of Journalists and to strike the controversial "Gasparri
law" governing Italy's media.
The Gasparri media deregulation was among the most
contentious of those passed during Berlusconi's last term as
prime minister. Critics said it favoured the media tycoon's
business empire by removing competition limits and allowing
Mediaset to expand rapidly into digital terrestrial TV.
"We're fed up, that the banks, (employers confederation)
Confindustria run the newspapers and the TV, tell the
journalists what to do or write," he said.
It was the second "V-day" for Grillo, who first launched
the protest last September when he gathered petitions that
sought to clean up politics.
He reiterated calls to bar convicts from entering public
office, and read the names out loud of a handful convicted
criminals who were elected to parliament. After each name, the
crowd thundered back "Vaffanculo!".
(Editing by Jon Boyle)