RAI Board of Directors Vote to Close New York Offices to Save Money

Sixty-six employees, who say they are planning legal action against the board, will be laid off effective in April.

ROME – The board of directors of Italian state broadcaster RAI on Wednesday voted unanimously to close the company’s storied New York offices in a cost saving move, the same day it was revealed that a former RAI head said he once refused an offer to sell the troubled company to News Corp. subsidiary Sky Italia for €350 million ($455 million) because he did not want it to be owned by Rupert Murdoch.

The decision to close the RAI’s New York headquarters, effective in April, means 66 employees will be given their walking papers. New York-based RAI employees say they are planning legal action against the board.

RAI had used the Tribeca headquarters to produce television and radio reports from North America; the company will reply on Associated Press reports instead, it said.

Other international RAI holdings, most notably RAI International, which distributes RAI programming worldwide, could come next, according to the reports. Officials said RAI’s New York offices were first because U.S. labor laws make it easier to fire workers than Italian labor laws do.

RAI is in the midst of pushing through tough austerity measures mandated by new Prime Minister Mario Monti, who is struggling to help Italy avoid falling victim of the European debt crisis.

Meanwhile, former RAI director general Mauro Masi said in an interview with the weekly magazine Chi that he turned down an offer of seven years of payments worth €50 million ($65 million) from Sky Italia to take over the Italian broadcaster, because, Masi said, “I refused to sell RAI to Rupert Murdoch.”

He said he was criticized internally for the move: “I was accused of blowing the deal to save RAI,” he said.

Masi’s interview, which will appear in the edition to Chi with Thursday’s cover date, is in connection with a soon-to-be-released book on his 800 days at RAI’s helm.

RAI, the country’s oldest broadcaster, is currently Italy’s third leading broadcaster in terms of revenue, trailing Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset networks, and Sky-Italia, a satellite broadcaster. But the company, which employs 13,000 and is €200 million ($260 million) in debt, remains a key player on the Italian media stage.