Berlusconi Mulls Sale of His Main Rival, State Broadcaster RAI

27 August 2002

RAI, Italy’s state-owned broadcaster and the sole rival of substance to prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset empire, could be sold in a death-by-a-thousand-cuts scenario outlined Friday by communications minister Maurizio Gasparri.

Gasparri, a former journalist and Berlusconi appointee, told Italian news magazine Panorama that lawmakers will debate a new bill when parliament resumes session on August 30. This will include a step-by-step privatisation of RAI, which broadcasts across three TV and eight radio networks. The Berlusconi administration would, however, hold a controlling stake in the broadcaster “for the time being” and, Gasparri avers, a “long time” will elapse before the majority of RAI shares are privately held.

“I am thinking of a progressive reduction that would mean that the state would continue to defend the place of public broadcasting,” Gasparri assured. “There would be safeguards to prevent abuses.” But many fear Gasparri and his cohorts intend to emulate the old French proverb which holds that the best way to boil a live frog is very, very slowly.

The government last month swept away the tax paid by Italians specifically to fund RAI which, says Gasparri, will now have to find other ways to stay alive including increased advertising revenues – at present limited by a government-imposed rates ceiling.

Although many will see this as an attempt by the media tycoon premier to neuter the power of his main rival, others believe a sell-off would propel RAI toward greater efficiency and remove it from the clutches of politicians.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff