The head of Italy's RAI state-backed television network resigned on Tuesday, saying Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government was exerting too much pressure on the broadcaster.
Lucia Annunziata led RAI's board for 13 months.
Lucia Annunziata said she was leaving her position at the head of Italy's biggest media organization because of "stifling" government interference. According to press reports, she complained that the RAI board of directors had become little more than a "mail box in which decisions taken in places outside the company are ratified."
Annunziata's resignation was apparently triggered by nominations for key posts at RAI that the board was due to decide on the same day. Her announcement came just 30 minutes before the board was set to meet in Milan. Annunziata said the company was being "occupied" Berlusconi's backers, and she alleged that the board had received the nominations merely three hours before members were supposed to vote on them.
Berlusconi's supporters denied there was undue government influence and denounced Annaziata. Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini said her resignation should be seen in the context of upcoming European and local elections. Her allegations were "simply ridiculous," he said.
Annunziata frequently criticized Berlusconi's influence on RAI during her tenure as the board's president since March 2003. In recent months, she suggested she would resign if controversial legislation was passed that critics said was designed to benefit Berlusconi's extensive media business interests. The law, which relaxes limits on media ownership and reforms the advertising market, was finally passed last week.
The RAI board of directors has traditionally been filled with political appointees according to which parties form the ruling governmental coalition.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi (photo) not only exercises control over RAI as prime minister, but his family owns a vast media empire, including three private television channels. He is said to effectively control 90 percent of the Italian media. As of Wednesday, Berlusconi is Italy's longest-serving prime minister since World War II.
Italy only "partly free"
Annunziata is the second prominent RAI employee to leave the state broadcaster in protest against political influence in the past week. One of Italy's best known television anchors, Lilli Gruber, quit her job Friday, while accusing Berlusconi of hurting the Italian media by pursuing his political and business interests.
Before joining the RAI board, Annunziata was a news executive at Ap.Biscom, an independent Italian news agency. She had previously been a reporter for one of RAI's three channels and the newspapers Corriera della Sera and La Repubblica.
In a survey published by the nonprofit organization Freedom House on Monday, Italy ranked 74th in the world for press freedom, after Benin, Botswana and the Solomon Islands, and was considered only "partly free."