Featured Player: Lucia Annunziata

RAI's prexy girds up for battle at RAI

MILAN — Italians are still loudly debating pubcaster RAI’s attempts to remove sexy, scantily clad women from its shows.

Network prexy Lucia Annunziata has been roundly criticized by male and female viewers since the beginning of the month when she suggested the half-naked starlets who help to host everything from current affairs programs to gameshows were not an appropriate way to depict women.

“You don’t defend a woman’s dignity by covering her up,” says Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of Italy’s fascist dictator, who was a porn film star before going into politics with the rightwing Alleanza Nazionale.

But Sophia Loren backs the need to limit “soft porn” on RAI. “I have never loved excesses,” she says. “A woman must be discreet and well-educated.”

It’s not the only battle being fought by Annunziata, the 53-year-old journalist appointed as RAI’s “president-guarantor” in March.

She is facing increasingly tricky times as her attempts to lead the pubcaster are hampered by political differences inside and outside the network.

Her predecessor, publisher Paolo Mieli, quit after just five days because of what he termed “political and technical difficulties.” Can Annunziata tough it out?

Her supporters say she is stubborn, straight-forward and determined to save RAI.

Annunziata’s background is impressive. The railwayman’s daughter, who is married to American Washington Post writer Daniel Williams, is a former U.S. correspondent for Italian dailies Manifesto, La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera.

She has collaborated on political talk shows and radio shows for RAI and was director of daily newscast TG3 for three months in 1996.

She was editor-in-chief of AP-Biscom, an Italian news agency that came out of the merger between Associated Press and E-Biscom before her move to RAI.

Annunziata is considered too left-wing by RAI’s four-person board, appointed by Prime Minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing government.

But that is precisely why she got the job.

According to complex politics, RAI is controlled by a pro-government majority, with some representatives in the top management close to the opposition.

However, contrary to the norm, she had no say in the appointment of RAI director general Flavio Cattaneo, who backs Berlusconi.

The board blocks many of her changes: The few exceptions include her campaign to get lewd images of women off the screen.

That move is part of a larger review proposed by Annunziata who wants the pubcaster to move away from the down-market style of its commercial rival, Berlusconi’s Mediaset, and focus on public service programming.

However, the board has not backed her attempts to cut the number of reality shows and improve the quality of news.

They vetoed her decision to put left-wing political commentator Michele Santoro back on the air after a judge ordered that he be given back his show at the beginning of the month, ruling that his contract was broken for political reasons.

RAI dropped Santoro last year following criticism by Berlusconi.

“This is not the first time Annunziata has been isolated by the RAI board. This cannot be accepted as a rule,” says Claudio Petruccioli, head of the Parliamentary RAI supervising commission.

Some pundits have called Annunziata “the only real man” in RAI today. She’ll need all that strength to hang on to her job at the pubcaster.