Italo politics making showbiz fret

Although Bettino Craxi has not yet resigned his powerful post as Social party secretary, his fall from grace struck one more blow to the collapsing system of political favors that fuels the Italian entertainment business.

Craxi got a notice mid-December that he was under investigation for kickbacks and corruption.

While most agree a political cleanup will eventually open the door to more honest TV journalists and better film projects, many are frantic in the short term.

“Everything is completely paralyzed now,” said one film producer; since new management likely will soon come in at state-run RAI-TV, “they won’t finance anything their predecessor OK’d.”

RAI-2, the network under the thumb of the Socialist Party, is most likely to feel the reverberations of Craxi’s fall.

Although web head Giampaolo Sodano was Craxi-backed, his performance is judged quite productive, maybe enough to save his job.

At RAI and on all state boards, the operative word is lottizzazione, which means divvying up jobs according to political affiliation.

Like his predecessor Enrico Manca, RAI prexy Walter Pedull is a Socialist. So is the head of fiction production at RAI-2, Stefano Munaf and his counterpart at RAI-3, Giancarlo Santalmassi.

At the public film group Ente Gestione Cinema, which runs Cinecitt and the Istituto Luce, Socialists and Christian Democrats share all the key positions. Minister of Entertainment Margherita Boniver is a Socialist and has remained an outspoken Craxi defender even after his judiciary woes.

RAI also makes use of an enormous number of outside contractors to produce its programs. Many contracts, it has long been suspected, are awarded to those close to the political parties. State investigators start scrutinizing the RAI production contracts confiscated last November in a crackdown.

One of the most active TV production companies is La Italiana Produzione, run by Craxi’s daughter Stefania Craxi.

This may mean big changes at Silvio Berlusconi’s Fininvest; the TV mogul had a friendship with Craxi and close ties to the Socialist Party.

As the TV reform bill lumbered toward passage last year, the Socialists helped Berlusconi hold of most of the prelaw empire he had established: all three national webs and new pay-TV channels, in which he is a key shareholder.

Today, the political climate is no longer as favorable to Fininvest. Take a recent parliamentary ruling on TV ad ceilings and sponsorship: It marked a costly, $ 200 million-plus defeat for Berlusconi and it probably passed because the Socialists were in trouble.

Meanwhile, some Fininvest honchos are reportedly flirting with other political alliances most insistently, with a controversial movement called “The League.”

Berlusconi himself has been at pains to deny any connection to the Milan-based “Lega,” which has been frequently criticized for racist and separatist tendencies, but is growing in strength and respectability. He has laughed off the suggestion that he will become a League candidate for political office.

Still, the Italian business world is so intertwined with politics, it is hard to imagine an empire like Berlusconi’s independent of any political force.

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