Tens of thousands gathered in Rome on Saturday to defend press freedom amid concerns of growing government interference in the way news is reported in Italy. “Free information, not on a leash,” Franco Siddi, secretary general of the Italian Press Federation, told a crowd in the Piazza del Popolo, which the event’s organizers put at 300,000 and police at 60,000. The group planned the Rome protest after events seemed to indicate president Silvio Berlusconi’s government was trying to exert pressure on the national news media, Siddi said. Berlusconi dismissed the protest as “a real farce”. Speaking at a political convention in northern Italy, he said, “Freedom is far greater in Italy than any other Western country.” For years accusations of conflicts of interest have dogged Berlusconi, who owns the country’s leading private television networks and a publishing empire while his government oversees the state broadcaster RAI. In recent months he has expressed impatience with media that have covered his extramarital affairs with a brace of young women.