Lucia Annunziata, chairwoman of Italian state-owned broadcaster RAI (Radio Televisione Italiana), on Monday charged prime minister Silvio Berlusconi with personal intervention in the broadcaster's editorial affairs on the eve of a critical parliamentary debate on media reform.

This, she alleged, was an attempt to block criticism from political opponents. Berlusconi made "phone calls personally to give instructions" on programming and personnel decisions at RAI. She cited as an example the premier's veto on her choice of Ferruccio de Bortoli to front an RAI program.

De Bortoli, a former editor of Italy's top daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera, was to have anchored an RAI political program but "was rejected because his name didn't have the prime minister's OK," denounced Annunziata.

Newspaper colleagues say de Bortoli resigned from Corriere della Sera because he was drained by Berlusconi-applied pressure over the paper's often-critical coverage of his legal problems.

The media tycoon controls the country's largest commercial broadcaster Mediaset along with many other media interests including publishing and print giant Mondadori. Via the office of prime minister, he also exerts indirect influence over publicly-owned RAI.

This leads his critics to charge that he uses the media to further his personal and political ends. Mediaset and RAI together control 90% of Italy's national television audience.

Berlusconi's office declined to comment on the allegations.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff