Italian state broadcaster RAI has promoted deputy director Claudio Cappon to the position of director general, replacing former chief Pier Luigi Celli who quit on Friday.

RAI's unprecedented speed in appointing Cappon served to quash a political storm which arose when the newly-departed director said that the broadcaster was "ungovernable".

"We have reconstructed our top management within just one day. It's a kind of world record," said RAI president Roberto Zaccaria.

Celli, a fiery and controversial figure, had been at the helm of RAI since 1998. He was known to have often complained about facing political pressure, and had urged the government to privatise the broadcaster.

In recent months, the Italian parliament has stepped up efforts to push through statutory reforms that will lead to the broadcaster's political and economic independence, although RAI has continued to deny reports that two of its three television channels will be privatised outright.

The current urgency over RAI's independence - first mooted 15 years ago - has been prompted by Italy's impending national elections, scheduled for April, and the growing popularity of opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi, who also owns rival network Mediaset. Should Berlusconi come to power, his party would be responsible for electing RAI's board of directors.

Celli's resignation and Cappon's appointment were met with an obvious degree of satisfaction by the Italian government. Communications minister Salvatore Cardinale said: "Celli's resignation demonstrates the difficulty of reconciling his vision of RAI with the political world's determination to safeguard the broadcaster's particular profile."

The Berlusconi-led opposition party also seemed to welcome Cappon's appointment. Forza Italia's Paolo Romani said the party saw in Cappon "the technical and transitionary figure which the party had wished to see at the head of the company."

Meanwhile, Cappon, who worked for 20 years for former state holding company Iri before joining RAI, said he was "well aware of the challenges that lie ahead of him."

One of his most pressing tasks will be to reassure RAI's board about the state of the company's finances. Indeed last week, shortly before resigning, Celli forecast that RAI's losses would amount to $48m (L100bn) in 2001.