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Arrivederci RAI: Topper quits amid political spat

Board appointments push exec to ankle post

ROME — RAI president Lucia Annunziata’s contentious resignation on May 4, 14 months after becoming head of the pubcaster’s board — which she blasted as a “mere mailbox” for requests from Silvio Berlusconi’s camp — came as no big surprise.

In February the prominent leftist journo told reporters that the Prime Minister, who controls RAI’s main competitor, Mediaset, personally “picks up the phone to call RAI board members and suggest (executive) appointments.”

Ironically, Annunziata was nominated by Berlusconi’s center-right coalition, in what she described as a watchdog role as the only opposition representative on the pubcaster’s five-member board. Her appointment followed the resignation of newsman Paolo Mieli, who found the political interference too much after just five days in the job.

Annunziata wasn’t so hasty. From day one the feisty 54-year-old former Washington correspondent for La Repubblica squabbled with RAI general director Flavio Cattaneo over everything from supposedly slanted news coverage to alleged censorship of politically sensitive comedy acts, to a recent interview with a convicted serial killer aired by RAI-1 as a ratings-booster.

The final straw came when RAI’s board pushed through a slew of new appointments, in what Annunziata claimed amounted to a coup by the ruling center-right to take “full control” of the three-channel national web.

The appointments include Alessio Gorla, chief organizer of the TV-tycoon-turned-politician’s Forza Italia political party. The former high-ranking Mediaset exec has become RAI’s chief financial officer. Berlusconi’s one-time personal assistant Deborah Bergamini is now RAI’s head of marketing.

Annunziata saw the list of names up for appointments and promotions three hours before the board meeting. Instead of attending, she decided to resign.

“She should have discussed her objections with us,” Cattaneo, who is considered close to the right-wing National Alliance, said in an interview with the moderate Corriere della Sera newspaper.

“Berlusconi has never, and I mean never, put pressure on us. You don’t have to believe me, but you can’t call me a liar either,” he added.

On the same day, controversial media legislation set to radically deregulate the country’s airwaves and to bolster Berlusconi’s dominant position also went into effect.

The new rules, under which RAI is to become partially privatized next year, also see the pubcaster’s board extending from five to nine members after the privatization takes place.

But until then, Cattaneo and his four associates may continue to run the show.

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