RAI President Resigns As Italy’s PM Tightens Grip on Media

24 July 2003

Lucia Annunziata, president of the board of Italy’s state-funded broadcaster RAI (Radio Televisione Italiana), resigned Tuesday night – minutes before the Italian senate approved a bill that many fear will further tighten the stranglehold of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi on the nation’s media.

Annunziata kept her vow to step down the day the controversial media bill was approved by the senate. Among other things, the bill will replace RAI’s current board – which has often been a thorn in the premier’s side.

Said Annunziata: “The only way to respect the will of parliament and the interests of RAI is to allow for the early formation of a new board under the rules of the new law.”

She did not hide her disquiet about the power wielded by Berlusconi, both as a media magnate and prime minister. In the later capacity, he is also ultimately responsible for the state broadcasters’ three TV channels. The position of RAI, said Annunziata, is perilous in a market “distorted by conflict of interest”.

Premier Berlusconi – quondam cruise line crooner, now Italy’s wealthiest man and most powerful media magnate – will benefit directly from the bill which overrides a recent ruling by Italy’s highest court that would have reined-in the power of his holding company Mediaset.

The court imposed four key restrictions on Mediaset – all now overruled. Specifically that it:

1. Switch one of its three free-to-air terrestrial channels to satellite;
2. Limit the proportion of national advertising revenue these channels could command;
3. Curb use of these channels for cross-promotion of the group’s other interests; and
4. Limit its ability to buy into the newspaper market.

Even before approval of the media bill, Berlusconi’s influence over RAI was demonstrated when the broadcaster’s main evening news bulletin failed to report the worldwide furore over his denigratory remarks to a German MEP [Member of the European Parliament] when questioned in the chamber over his conflicts of interest.

At the same time the media bill received the senate’s assent, the lower chamber (of Deputies) approved a separate and equally controversial bill designed to gloss over the premier’s conflicts of interest.

To the fury of opposition parties, a clause within the bill bans from high political office those who run companies – but not those who own them [WAMN’s italics]. The prime minister resigned from executive office at Mediaset some while ago but still controls the company via his personal stake of nearly 50%.

One opposition deputy spoke for many when he described the bill as “a symbol of, and metaphor for, the sickness of our democracy”.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff