Italy state TV under attack for "biased" talk-show

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ROME, Oct 5 (Reuters) Italy's state television RAI came under fire from the centre-left government today, with Prime Minister Romano Prodi calling one of its flagship political talk-shows shoddy.

Justice Minister Clemente Mastella, who has long complained about the programme which he says attacks him on a regular basis, went even further and said that if RAI did not adopt new rules of conduct, its board should be sacked.

''Year Zero'', a show presented by a left-leaning journalist with an irreverent style, hosted two magistrates yesterday who complained of political pressure and intimidation.

One of them, Luigi De Magistris, has been at the centre of a row with Mastella, who wants him transferred from his post in the southern city of Catanzaro for ''serious ethical violations''.

De Magistris has been probing alleged misuse of European Union funds by politicians and businesses. A media report in July said Prodi was under investigation in that probe, though Prodi says he has not been notified and denies any wrongdoing.

Mastella's transfer request is not directly linked to the probe into the EU funds, but critics say it is politically motivated.

''I have been subject to pressure and intimidation from institutional circles,'' De Magistris told the talk show.

Asked by reporters today what he thought about the allegations, Prodi used unusually strong words.

''I have read the transcript of last night's programme. It seems to me there was none of the seriousness, professionalism and appropriateness that a programme about the justice system should have,'' he said.

''LYNCHED'' Mastella, a centrist who has threatened to quit Prodi's fragile coalition if it does not rally to his defence, told a news conference he was being ''lynched'' by the programme.

''Either RAI gives itself rules of conduct, or we take steps in parliament to withdraw support from the board,'' he said. RAI is at the heart of Italy's spoils system, with successive governments handing out top jobs there to reward faithful proteges. It is funded by a licence fee and advertising revenues.

Its board members, appointed by parliament and by the government, are picked depending on their party affiliation. A reform to try to make the broadcaster more independent from politics has been stuck in parliament for months.

Journalist Michele Santoro, the presenter of ''Year Zero'', is no stranger to political controversy.

RAI axed Santoro in 2002 after then prime minister Berlusconi, which owns RAI's private rival Mediaset, blamed him and another commentator for their ''criminal use of state television''.

During his five years in power Berlusconi was often attacked by critics for his extensive control over Italy's media, and the centre left accused him of censorship over Santoro's removal.

A court later ordered that Santoro be reinstated and he returned to RAI with ''Year Zero'' last year, after Prodi defeated Berlusconi in an April election.

REUTERS PDT RAI2205

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