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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 16:24 GMT
Storm gathers around Italian TV
Silvio Berlusconi in front of TV screens
TV is never far from political influence
A row is brewing in Italy over the country's public broadcaster, RAI television and radio. A new five-member board must be appointed by Monday and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is accused of having too much influence, reports Joanna Robertson from Rome.

Despite what some may see as its lack of content, Italian television is immeasurably powerful.

Italians just love to watch it - on average for six hours a day - and politicians just love to appear on it. The chat-show cameo far outweighs the parliamentary political speech.

Public broadcasting in Italy is never far from at least some government influence.

But Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's vast media holdings mean he has a near monopoly over private sector television too.


Mr Berlusconi's political colleagues will make the nominations, which will, in turn, be subject to his final approval

RAI is therefore the major rival for the Berlusconi empire's television audiences - and for big advertising revenues.

Mr Berlusconi's opponents - from politics and business - say he has no interest in making the public broadcaster a viable, profitable network. If he did that he would simply be boosting his competitor.

Hand-picked

In an effort to distance himself from the RAI board selection, Mr Berlusconi has stressed that he is not the one choosing the panel.


Mr Berlusconi considers that his victory at the polls and strong majority in parliament entitle him to govern with a free rein

RAI's five-member board is usually appointed by the presidents of the two chambers of parliament and the nominations are based on party political affiliation.

But in a highly-symbolic departure from normal practice - in which one president is always a member of the opposition - Mr Berlusconi has instead appointed both from his government.

So, in fact, only Mr Berlusconi's political colleagues will make the nominations, which will, in turn, be subject to Mr Berlusconi's final approval.

Political domination

Part of the row that has been simmering for months, which now appears set to boil over early next week, concerns Mr Berlusconi's political philosophy.

Umberto Bossi and Silvio Berlusconi
Umberto Bossi (L) has threatened mutiny over the board appointment
It is 'majoritarian'. Mr Berlusconi considers that his victory at the polls and strong majority in parliament entitle him to govern with a free rein.

Dialogue or compromise with the defeated opposition has no place. In the 'majoritarian' way of thinking, the opposition has no right to influence public media.

But squabbles are also breaking out within the government itself.

There are four senior coalition allies to be appeased. But usually the government only takes three of the five places on the RAI board.

Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, is already threatening to withdraw support from Mr Berlusconi and run alone at forthcoming local elections if his party does not get a seat on the board.

That would be enough to cause a coalition defeat in the wealthiest areas of Italy.

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