Radio Televisione Italiana (RAI), Italy’s state-owned broadcasting system, is on the verge of falling into the clutches of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, also the owner of privately controlled Mediaset, the nation’s largest TV and media business.

This would give Italy’s controversial head of government effective control of some 90% of the domestic television market – a situation that many fear will lead to a political bias in news, current affairs and drama programmes. Berlusconi has dismissed such concerns as propaganda.

The contract term of RAI’s present board of directors expired this weekend and despite promises by Berlusconi that he will not intervene in the creation of the new board, he has lobbied vigorously behind the scenes for the appointment of political cronies – a situation that has created a rift between the prime minister and Pier Ferdinando Casini, speaker of the chamber of deputies and a centrist member of the ruling coalition, who has demanded the appointment of a greater number of neutral directors.

Traditionally, three places on the RAI board are split between the four government parties, with two other seats occupied by opposition nominees. The parliamentary opposition has threatened to boycott the board unless an independent ‘guarantor’ is appointed president.

Berlusconi, meantime, has pledged that the board will be impartial and provide ‘balanced information’, a turn of phrase, his opponents aver, that infers the correction of an alleged leftwing bias. The prime minister has claimed that RAI executives and journalists appointed by the preceding government cost his centre-right coalition “many votes” at the last election.

“Information will be objective and without privileging one side and penalising the other – as has been the case up to today. The way in which public TV was managed during the last election was scandalous,” sermonized Berlusconi.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff