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Berlusconi fuels RAI-Mediaset rivalry.

ROME With Silvio Berlusconi's return as Italy's Prime Minister, pubcaster RAI is heading back into the clutches of the media-mogul-turned-pol who controls rival web Mediaset.

As part of Berlusconi's broader anti-tax agenda, his new center-right government is drafting a law to lower the unpopular annual $160 TV license fee for TV households (already the lowest in Europe), which pumps $2 billion a year into RAI coffers.

An additional $1.8 billion comes from the country's dwindling advertising market.

Berlusconi constantly denies that his role sets up conflicts of interest. But limiting RAI's revenue stream, regardless of the reason, underscores the inherent impropriety in Berlusconi drafting policy that affects the pubcaster.

Wrangling began last week between his coalition and the center-left opposition over who will head the parliamentary commission that oversees RAI and chooses its new board.

As usual, those on the board will end up being government-friendly appointees--it's a custom that means the pubeaster is always subject to political interference.

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During his previous stint as prime minister, Berluseoni meddled in RAI's affairs more than normal.

For instance, last year La Repubblica published a transcript of a leaked phone tap in which Berluseoni asked RAI's then-head of drama Agostino Sacca "to raise the boss' morale" by casting four starlets in the pubcaster's skeins.

Sacca, who did not oblige, was subsequently forced to step down. Earlier this month, Berlusconi's cabinet passed a bill restricting the use of wiretaps in Italian investigations, so any other power plays at RAI are unlikely to be disclosed anytime soon. Whatever happens, the pubcaster is going to have to make do with less.

Italian labor union SLC-CGIL is urging the mammoth pubcaster, which has more than 11,000 employees and spends nearly two-thirds of its coin on content from outside companies, to save money by producing more programming inhouse.

Endemol sold RAI $215 million worth of product in 2006, the last year for which figures are available, and RAI's reliance on Endemol since then has remained more or less stable.

RAI's biggest content provider is Endemol, in which Berlusconi's Mediaset took a 33% stake in 2007.

No wonder SLC-CGIL general secretary Fulvio Miceli strongly doubts the Berlusconi-appointed RAI board will cut back on Endemol content.

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Title Annotation:Silvio Berlusconi
Author:Vivarelli, Nick
Publication:Variety
Date:Jun 30, 2008
Words:370
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