Members of the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, on Wednesday adopted an amendment put forward by the Reformed Communists, which will pave the way for multi-channel digital broadcasting. The amendment was approved by 284 votes to 278.

For the legislation to take effect, the chamber needed to approve an identical version of the bill passed by the Senate in July. By voting for an amendment, deputies have ensured the bill must now go back to the upper house.

Several opposition politicians cried, "Freedom, freedom!" after the vote, which approved an amendment to outlaw the employment of children under 14 years of age in advertisements.

The bill has been criticised by those who say lack of media diversity is already threatening Italy's democracy, and warn this legislation could make things worse.

Bill weakens diversity

Berlusconi, Italy's richest man, either directly or indirectly controls some 90% of the country's television through his three private Mediaset channels and the politically-appointed board of state broadcaster RAI.

The bill changes the rules and principles of the audio-visual system and the public broadcasting company RAI ahead of the introduction of terrestrial digital television in 2007.

With that in prospect, it reduces anti-monopoly legislation in the media designed to protect the diversity of information in Italy. It also commits RAI to partial privatisation and remodels the composition of RAI's top management.

Critics fear the changes could enable Berlusconi, who has been dogged by allegations of corruption, to take over even more newspapers and interfere further in the management of RAI. The changes could also cause greater media imbalance, favouring television over print.