RAI votes for political fairness

Italian pubcaster to avoid political programs before elections

ROME -- Italian state broadcaster RAI said on Wednesday that it would not run political commentary programs during the last month before the upcoming national elections.

The vote is scheduled to take place March 28-29, meaning that from Feb. 28 popular political talk shows on the three RAI networks will be on hiatus. The move does not affect similar programs on the three networks operated by Mediaset, which is controlled by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, or o La 7, the smallest national broadcaster, which is owned by former state telephone company Telecom Italia.

RAI journalists said on Wednesday that they would go on strike to protest the move, which they said is a kind of censorship.

In a statement, RAI said it made the decision based on what it called was a "fairness doctrine," aimed at assuring that specific candidates do not benefit from favorable media coverage.

But the decision was immediately attacked by anti-censorship groups and by members of political opposition parties, who argued that televised commentary leading into the elections would be dominated by Berlusconi's Mediaset. They said the decision would increase coverage of candidates from Berlusconi's coalition and make it more difficult for opposition candidates and those from small parties to be elected.