Italian TV chairman resigns in protest at state interference

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The Independent Online

Italy's media world was in turmoil yesterday after the chairman of the state broadcaster RAI, Lucia Annunziata, resigned in protest at government interference. The resignation came as President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi signed into law a media reform bill which, critics of the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi claim, will greatly increase his already enormous wealth and power.

Ms Annunziata, who only became RAI's chairman in March last year, had threatened to quit if the media bill became law. But her resignation was seen as the result of relentless pressure on her by the director general and board of the company, responding to the wishes of the government.

Mr Ciampi vetoed an earlier version of the bill last December, complaining that the so-called Gasparri law could lead to the creation of "dominant formations" in Italian media ownership. If a bill that the Italian head of state has rejected is presented to him for signing a second time, he is constitutionally obliged to sign it.

Mr Berlusconi, whose government yesterday attained 1,060 days in power, a postwar record, is Italy's richest man, and his company, Mediaset, owns three private television stations. With de facto control of RAI, he has direct or indirect control over well over 90 per cent of Italy's television output. He also owns two daily newspapers.

His allies claim that the new bill will bring about a digital revolution in Italian television, encouraging new players to enter the market by increasing its potential profitability. But critics charge that Mr Berlusconi's position is already too powerful for potential competitors to choose to challenge him.

In an open letter explaining her decision to resign, Ms Annunziata wrote that the director general, Flavio Cattaneo, with whom she has had a series of bruising clashes, had sprung a host of new names on her for the management of the corporation. She claimed these names would "completely destroy the profile of the corporation ... changing it radically both in its structure and its managers; an act which will bring about the annulment of every type of autonomy and pluralism and damage at least half of parliament and that half of the country which [that half of] parliament represents."