ROME — Enzo Biagi, the venerated Italian TV and newspaper journalist who for more than 40 years was a dinnertime fixture on pubcaster RAI, from which he was famously banned after clashing with Silvio Berlusconi, died Tuesday in a Milan hospital. He was 87.
Biagi had been in hospital for more than a week due to heart and kidney complications.
Biagi, born near Bologna in 1920, joined RAI in 1961 and started hosting a talk show called “Dicono di Lei” (“They’re Talking about You”), which displayed the calm, straightforward, sometimes ironic style that became his trademark, along with his thick-framed eyeglasses and, eventually, his white hair.
For the following four decades on RAI news shows, Biagi regularly commented the top stories of the day and conducted evening interviews with personalities ranging from Robert and Edward Kennedy to Roberto Benigni.
Biagi in 2002 had Benigni as a guest on his program “Il Fatto” (The Fact), where the comic made fun of Berlusconi’s electoral campaign.
After Berlusconi won the elections and became prime minister on a conservative ticket, the TV-tycoon-turned-politician who controls RAI rival Mediaset, claimed Biagi had made “criminal” use of RAI to benefit leftist forces and publicly urged RAI management to put a stop to it.
“I have been working here since 1961 and this is the first time the prime minister has set the programming (agenda),” countered Biagi, calling for RAI to prove its independence from political interference.
But a few months later he resigned after “Il Fatto” was pulled from RAI’s lineup, citing ratings reasons, which was ludicrous since Biagi had some of the highest audience shares in the pubcaster’s history.
Biagi wrote a book about being muzzled called “Quello Che Non Si Doveva Dire” (“What You Must Not Say”), published in 2006.
Biagi, a prolific author, was also a regular contributor to leading Italian dailies Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica.
In April 2007, he was back on RAI, after current center-left premier Romano Prodi defeated Berlusconi.
“There have been some technical glitches that have lasted five years,” he said when he appeared back on the air.