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Pubcaster RAI, saddled with $ 1 billion debt, managerial paralysis and rumors of corruption, won an important battle May 26. The upper house of Italy’s parliament approved the long-overdue RAI reform law, paving the way for the appointment of new management, which is expected to whip the resilient pubcaster into leaner, meaner shape.

The shakeup would mean a new director general, president and board of directors, as well as new presidents for the three networks, plus new drama and variety programming execs.

“This is a great day for RAI,” exulted prexy Walter Pedulla outside parliament after the vote.

The bill now goes to the senate for approval. RAI reform is expected to pave the way for a new TV law later this year to replace the unpopular regulation passed in 1991.

Observers have said that reform at RAI must begin by breaking political parties’ grips on the broadcaster’s management structure before its the new team can start to trim the pubcaster’s whopping debt.

Part of RAI’s problems stem from the fact that its political caretakers have traditionally viewed it more as a source of patronage jobs and a way to build electoral consensus than as a broadcaster that must compete in a rapidly evolving international market.

On paper the reform seems almost trivial: Instead of the current 16-member board of directors, there would be a five-member board. Directors would be nominated by presidents of the chamber of deputies and the senate, and in turn would nominate the director general and president.

Parliament currently nominates the board of directors through a highly politicized commission.

The director general has always been picked by the Christian Democratic party , while the president’s post has fallen to the Socialists. That practice should end with the reform.

The reform would also ease RAI’s financial burden.

The pubcaster would pay the same amount to the state for its license as do the private webs — quite a savings, since RAI paid about $ 37 million per web, and the commercial channels pay about $ 30,000.

There’s more at stake with RAI reform than just shaping up the pubcaster, which despite years of competition from rival Fininvest has managed to hold on to its ratings lead.

The demand for a broad-sweeping reform of the Italian TV system is growing louder almost daily, as more and more TV exex, politicians and opinion-makers realize that the long-term technological development of Italo TV is being sacrificed to allow both RAI and Fininvest to pour all of their resources into an increasingly antiquated ratings war.