ROME Italy's communications regulator on Monday slapped fines on several television programmes for giving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi airtime to rally supporters ahead of a second round of local voting.
In a string of interviews delivered on Friday on state television channels and his own private ones, Berlusconi tried to galvanise centre-right voters and quash speculation that his government may not last to the end of its term in 2013.
Regulator Agcom said it would fine news programmes on the public RAI network [RAI.UL] as well as Berlusconi's Mediaset (MS.MI) channels for airing the interviews without including opposing views, saying they had violated electoral rules.
"The authority reaffirms the duty for balanced and complete information until the end of the election campaign," Agcom said in the statement, handing down fines of up to the legal maximum of 258,230 euros.
Mediaset said it planned to appeal.
In the mayoral elections on May 15-16, Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party and its Northern League ally suffered setbacks in several key cities, including the financial capital Milan, Berlusconi's home town.
There, the centre-right bloc ended up trailing a centre-left candidate who forced a runoff for the first time in 14 years. This will take place on May 29-30.
During the television interviews on Friday, Berlusconi said the opposition was dominated by "extremists" and there was no alternative to his government.
Alleged bias towards Berlusconi in the media is a frequent subject of controversy in Italy.
Agcom has previously sent complaints about bias in favour of the centre-right government to widely-watched news broadcasts on state television and Mediaset channels.
(Reporting by Catherine Hornby; Editing by Kevin Liffey)