A eurosceptic journalist with a history of spreading conspiracy theories has been appointed as chairman of Italy’s national broadcaster, RAI.
Marcello Foa, a controversial figure who has voiced homophobic, anti-immigration, anti-vaccine and pro-Putin views, was nominated for the role by the governing coalition of the populist 5-Star Movement and far-right League.
His appointment was held up for weeks after media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi‘s centre-right Forza Italia party joined opposition centre-left ranks to oppose his candidacy.
But the former prime minister performed a U-turn without explanation to give Mr Foa the green light last week after holding talks with League leader and interior minister Matteo Salvini.
Opposition politicians suggested he had changed his position after receiving assurances that the government would not undermine his family’s Mediaset firm.
Mr Foa’s nomination had the required two-thirds majority of support in the parliamentary committee that oversees RAI.
RAI’s chairman plays a key role in determining the broadcaster’s strategy and holds one of the most influential positions in Italian media.
Mr Foa’s appointment was confirmed this week despite objections from the RAI journalists, who warned he would put broadcaster’s “legitimacy” at risk.
He has previously shared fake stories about Hillary Clinton attending Satanic dinners and a plot to overthrow US president Donald Trump.
More recently he said he doubted that Russian state assassins were behind the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, suggesting it was “too obvious”.
Critics say Mr Foa has also promoted a far-right agenda during his journalistic career and fear his appointment will lead to bias in RAI’s output.
“This move will slaughter pluralism, competence, respect for the rules and respect for professionalism,” said Michele Anzaldi, a senior figure in the centre-left Democratic Party and a member of RAI’s oversight committee in parliament.
The opposition party is challenging Mr Foa’s appointment, claiming discrepancies in the voting process make it invalid.
With a daily viewer share of almost 34 per cent and more than 11,000 employees, RAI is arguably Italy’s most important and influential media group. Its main competitor is Mediaset.
Mr Foa has spent much of his journalistic career working for the right-wing Il Giornale newspaper, which is owned by Mr Berlusconi’s brother.
In a confirmation hearing before the parliamentary committee, Mr Foa defined himself as an “old-style liberal... committed to the defence of a plurality of information.”
Additional reporting by Reuters
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