RAI to test legality of 'fairness doctrine'

Eliminating political commentary before elections

ROME -- The board of directors for Italian state broadcaster RAI said Friday that it would meet Monday to determine the legality of the network's so-called "fairness doctrine" that would eliminate political commentary programming on state networks for a month before elections.

Political commentary on RAI was scheduled to be eliminated starting Sunday, a month before the start of the March 28-29 national elections. But the programming will now be allowed until the board of directors makes its decision on the legality of the original Feb. 10 decision.

RAI's decision had no bearing on similar programs carried by the three networks operated by Mediaset, which is controlled by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, or La 7, the smallest national broadcaster, which is owned by former state telephone company Telecom Italia.

RAI's decision has sparked criticism from several fronts: RAI employees have threatened to strike in protest of what they say is a kind of censorship, while political opposition figures complained that removing the programming from RAI would give an unfair advantage to members of the ruling coalition.

When it announced the policy Feb. 10, RAI said it was aimed at assuring that specific candidates do not benefit from favorable media coverage.