Three weeks before Italy's Berlusconi-led government appoints a new board of directors at state broadcaster Rai, the premier and media magnate who owns rival private broadcaster Mediaset has confirmed plans to privatise two of Rai's three television channels.
During an interview broadcast by France's Europe 1 radio, Berlusconi is reported to have said: "[plans for privatisation] are in our programme. And we shall do it." Rai's current board of directors, which is headed by chairman Roberto Zaccaria and was appointed by the previous left-wing government, is due for replacement on February 16.
The new board of directors will be announced by the speakers of the two houses of parliament, which are both appointed by Berlusconi. New Rai appointments are likely to be among the most closely scrutinized of Berlusconi's premiership. Indeed, when Berlusconi, as prime minister, appoints Rai's board of directors he will effectively be appointing the management of the main competitor to his private broadcasting empire.
The move will lead him to indirectly control around 90% of Italian broadcasting. Over the last 18 months, Berlusconi has come under increasing pressure to resolve the potential conflict of interest and sell his stake in Mediaset and its three channels - Canale 5, Rete 4 and Italia 1.
Suggestions have included Berlusconi swapping a 25% stake in Mediaset against a direct stake in the Murdoch-owned News Corp.
Italian parliament has in the past also attempted to push through statutory reforms that would lead to the broadcaster's political and economic independence. Autonomy would also enable the broadcaster the freedom to increase revenues, as there are currently limits on the amount of advertising it can sell.
During the interview with Europe 1, Berlusconi is reported to have complained of the left-wing bias of Rai management: "Rai is still in the hands of the left and for years, it has had an incredibly biased management. We want a balanced and objective public television," he said.
Asked whether there would be room at Rai for criticism by the opposition, Berlusconi said his critics had "twice the room" on television than his party had had. "It will not be possible for public television channels to be different from the private television channels which I have founded. Private television channels which I have founded are objective and are sometimes against me."