Italian politicians tap journalist for topper

ROME — Italo pols have appointed Paolo Garimberti, a journalist with a bent for American TV, as prexy of pubcaster RAI.

Garimberti, 66, is the former deputy director of La Repubblica newspaper and a former head of RAI’s “TG2″ news. His long career as a newsman includes a stint for La Stampa in Moscow, among other postings to global hotspots.

RAI’s designated new chief in his first comments praised Walter Cronkite as his “myth,” adding that more recently he has been “crazy” for Ted Koppel.

Garimberti also called “Late Night With David Letterman” the “perfect” talk show and enthused about how he loves watching NBA matches and American football, both of which air in Italy only on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox.

While such praise for American TV is not unusual in Italy, it is far from the norm for execs at RAI where local drama has been ousting Hollywood product from primetime, though “ER,” “Cold Case” and “Criminal Minds” still play prominently on the pubcaster.

Garimberti’s appointment ends a long impasse over management at the mammoth state-run web after the electoral victory last year of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who owns commercial broadcaster Mediaset, RAI’s rival.

In a spirit of bipartisan collaboration Berlusconi gave Garimberti the greenlight after his name was proposed by the center-left opposition.

Garimberti’s appointment needs final ratification, but that is considered a formality.

Top on RAI’s agenda are an estimated $200 million in 2009 budget cuts, plans to make one of its three channels advertising-free, and the launch this year of terrestrial digital TV platform Tivu in tandem with Mediaset to counter Sky Italia’s growth ahead of Italy’s switch to digital TV in 2012.

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