You have to hand it to Silvio Berlusconi, quondam cruise line crooner, now Italy’s wealthiest man, most powerful media magnate – and prime minister. The premier doesn’t do things by halves: if he’s going to cause a national outrage, he does it in spades!
Italians are not only inveterate TV watchers, with an average four hours viewing daily; they are second only to the French in their love of good food.
So if Berlusconi – already under intensive crossfire for allegedly using his office to influence media reporting – wanted deliberately to rile Giuseppe Pubblico, he would probably do something outrageous like … er, say …appoint the head of McDonald’s Italy to run the nation’s state broadcasting system, Radio Televisione Italiana (RAI).
Perhaps the premier is tired of heading a shaky coalition of warring rightist bedfellows – for he done exactly that, his proposal provoking politicians from across the political divide and the media at large to a tsunami of anger.
“RAI with Ketchup has been born”, railed left-of-centre daily La Repubblica, adding that bypassing the system for nominating RAI board members was “obscene from a democratic point of view”. Said Willer Bordon, a senior member of the opposition centre-left Margherita party: “We have hit the bottom.”
The row started after two RAI board members resigned alleging improper interference by government sources, at which point the prime minister reportedly nominated Mario Resca, chief executive of McDonald's in Italy, to be the new RAI president.
But by law, only the two speakers of Italy’s upper and lower parliamentary houses are allowed to nominate board members of the state-owned broadcaster.
Resca, who supplements his burger-dispensing day job with an unpaid ‘advisory’ seat on the board of Berlusconi-controlled Mondadori, the country’s largest publishing house, is also the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy. “I am surprised and honoured,” he reportedly said on hearing the news of his possible nomination, “I am a businessman.”
But shaken by the furore, Berlusconi has backtracked, insisting that he does intend to leave the appointment to the parliamentary pair. He is repeatedly accused – and repeatedly denies – trying to influence or manipulate RAI’s management, charges that led to the resignations triggering the whole affair.
The departed duo, Antonio Baldassare and Ettore Albertoni, issued a statement complaining of “a constantly growing instrumental use of various programmes for propaganda and not, as they should be used, for exploration and discussion for an adequate knowledge of the facts.”
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff