With Italy's national elections looming on May 13, fresh rumours are circulating that opposition candidate Silvio Berlusconi could be about to sell his shares in private broadcaster Mediaset to Australian mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Such a move would serve to quell the increasingly vociferous complaints which Berlusconi has been facing from political opponents regarding a potential conflict of interests over his stake in leading broadcaster Mediaset and its three stations, Canale 5, Rete 4 and Italia 6.

Fininvest, the Berlusconi-owned holding company which owns 50% of the publicly-listed broadcaster, has refused to confirm that any plans for a sale are currently underway. But while Berlusconi has been under pressure to give up his tv interests ever since he entered politics in 1994, market rumours have gained strength ever since Berlusconi was reported to be on the verge of closing a deal with Murdoch two years ago.

According to Rome daily La Repubblica, heightened political pressure could now make another move likely. Suggestions include Berlusconi swapping a 25% stake in Mediaset against a direct stake in the Murdoch-owned News Corp; and selling a 30% to Murdoch and 20% to Berlusconi's two children, Marina and Piersilvio, who are both top managers at the company.

In 2000, Mediaset saw its net profits jump 25% to $350m due to a 12% hike in advertising revenues at its three television stations. Most of the company's revenue comes from advertising company Publitalia, where overall revenue increased 13% to $1.9bn.