RAI gears for shake-up as reform law cuts board

After months of stormy debate and delay, Italian parliament approved a RAI reform law Thursday that will slim down the pubcaster’s 16-member board of directors as new management comes on board.

The new reform law should help ease political pressure on the board and reduce party influence.

New top management will be in place at RAI as early as July 1, including director general, president and a new board of directors.

Network presidents may be shown the door as well, after RAI finally gets down to the long-overdue task of restructuring its bloated and heavily indebted broadcasting operation.

Once new management takes over, RAI will be able to attack problems like its huge debt, Byzantine and expensive contracting practices, snail-like acquisitions bureaucracy and other ills.

RAI reform comes not a moment too soon. Though it’s managed to stay ahead of Berlusconi’s Fininvest in the ratings for yet another season — against all predictions — its financial resources are squeezed almost to the point of a liquidity crisis. With debt of about $ 1 billion, if RAI doesn’t make some serious structural changes it will be unable to meet its interest payments in a few years.

The new rules basically change the procedure in which top management is appointed. In the past, RAI was ruled by a parliamentary committee stocked with politicians whose main duty was to ensure that their parties occupied as many of the 16 seats as possible on RAI’s board of directors. The new five-member board will be nominated by the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

Politicians are not allowed to be board members. The new board has the power to name the director general, president, the three network chiefs as well as other management posts.

In concession to the Lombard League, a radical protest party based in northern Italy, the Italian government promised to examine the possibility of moving one of RAI’s three webs to Milan as part of the reform of the pubcaster.