MILAN (Reuters) - Shares in Telecom Italia Media TCM.MI rose sharply on Monday on reports about 10 companies had expressed an interest in buying the small Italian broadcaster, including sector leader Mediaset (MS.MI).
Any bid by dominant Mediaset, controlled former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, would reignite a political debate over diversity of ownership in the country's media ahead of a parliamentary election next year.
Mediaset, whose leadership in Italy's advertising market has been challenged by new digital channels and could be endangered by the emergence of a strong competitor, would also likely face antitrust problems if it attempted an acquisition.
A source close to the matter said Mediaset and about nine other groups had expressed in interest in acquiring the TV company. Controlling shareholder Telecom Italia (TLIT.MI) wants to sell the operation to help cut its debt.
Later on Monday Ansa newswire cited sources close to the deal as saying News Corporation (NWSA.O), which controls Sky Italia, had presented an expression of interest for TI Media and that it had been given access to the company's data.
A Sky Italia spokesperson, contacted by Reuters, recalled that back in June the company's CEO Andrea Zappia had told reporters that Sky had presented an expression of interest with the aim of getting access to data and not acquiring the company.
A second source said Telecom Italia had declined to give Mediaset, and its EI Towers (EIT.MI) infrastructure unit, access to financial data on the possible acquisition target, signaling it would not welcome an offer from the dominant Milan-based company.
A Mediaset spokesperson declined to comment on reports about its interest.
Despite a recent rise in advertising sales, Telecom Italia Media, Italy's third biggest free-to-air broadcaster, is losing money and needs substantial investment.
The company has a market value of about 240 million euros ($315 million) and net debt of 200 million euros. Its shares closed 13.5 percent higher at 0.188 euros on Monday, against a fall of about 1 percent in the Milan index.
Business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore said on Sunday telecom group 3 Italia, owned by Hutchison Whampoa 0013.HK, was interested in acquiring the company's two main assets - its television channels La7 and MTV Italia, and its multiplex platform.
Italy's Cairo Communications (CAI.MI) and Discovery Channel were interested in purchasing the group's two television channels, while private equity fund Clessidra was interested in the whole group, the paper said.
The deadline to present non-binding offers is September 24. ($1 = 0.7606 euros)
Reporting By Paola Arosio, Claudia Cristoferi, Danilo Masoni and Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Richard Chang