MILAN — In a major blow to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the board of beleaguered pubcaster RAI was ousted Wednesday by a surprise vote in Parliament.
The four board members, close to Berlusconi’s center-right government, must step down by Sept. 30. They remained in charge after the former president, Lucia Annunziata, resigned on May 7.
Annunziata, close to the left and appointed to provide political balance in the board, stepped down after the net’s general director Flavio Cattaneo appointed RAI execs without her approval and with the backing of the other four board members.
Annunziata and the opposition protested that the appointments were politically motivated and accused the government of using Italy’s largest media organization as a mouthpiece.
The opposition, which since May has asked the four members to step down, finally succeeded Wednesday after a centrist government party linked up with it and voted against the ruling coalition.
The ousting has triggered a new violent political dispute between Berlusconi’s ruling party Forza Italia and its ally the Democratic Union of the Center party (UDC) at a time of high tension within the 3-year-old government. It has been dogged by deep divisions and the recent resignation of the treasury minister.
Many pols now fear the government could collapse and UDC threatened to quit the coalition unless Berlusconi shook up his government.
“It was a bad decision both for its content and its political implications,” Sandro Bondi, spokesman of Forza Italia said Wednesday, commenting on the RAI motion.
The opposition welcomed the vote but said the RAI board resignations would not solve the problem: As interim treasury minister, Berlusconi is temporarily the main shareholder in RAI and has the power to appoint one director of the RAI board and to choose the net’s prexy.
Berlusconi oversees more than 90% of Italy’s TV through his family owned Mediaset network and pubcaster RAI.