Italo TV hit by charges of payola

ROME — Italian TV was shaken earlier this month by anti-corruption crusaders conducting Operation Clean Hands.

In a breaking scandal, many of RAI-TV’s best-known hosts were accused of pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars under the counter — in addition to their taxable salaries — from sponsors eager for them to plug their products on the air. As a public service broadcaster, RAI is subject to much more stringent rules regarding advertising practices than are its commercial rivals.

Suits threatened

All the TV personalities named — including Raffaela Carra, Lino Banfi, Aldo Biscardi, Heather Parisi, Anna Oxa, Lando Buzzanca, Giancarlo Magalli, Massimo Ranieri and Johnny Dorelli — have strenuously denied any wrongdoing and have announced they will sue.

Their accuser is Paolo Girone, head of the now-defunct Sales Promotion (formerly Essevi) ad agency, and a prominent figure at Umbriafiction, where Essevi signed up the meet’s big private sponsors.

Girone is considered the father of a special form of TV sponsorship much in vogue in Italy called “tele-promotion”– the practice of having a host interrupt the show to plug a product. He introduced the idea to TV mogul Silvio Berlusconi in the early 1980s after seeing the system on Canadian television. It has been a popular, if kitschy, form of advertising ever since.

Incentives to hype

According to Girone’s claims (which have yet to be investigated), between 1989 and 1992 he acted as go-between at RAI for sponsors who wanted to encourage TV stars to add fervor to their product plugs. For an extra $ 100,000 or so, the star was urged to become animated and convincing when tasting the sponsor’s coffee, mayonnaise or whatever during the “tele-promotion” interval.

Management at the pubcaster “hypocritically” refused to allow its hosts to accept money from sponsors — and so they were paid covertly, claims Girone.

Berlusconi’s Fininvest, on the other hand, has long understood that artists work better when encouraged, so they received a regular percentage on all broadcasts with sponsors.

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