Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi has spoken out for the first time about the controversial issue of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's control over the nation's media, urging Parliament to draft a new media law that will guarantee impartial news coverage.

Ciampi also asked the prime minister himself to sign his official letter, in a move that is seen by many as a direct challenge to Berlusconi, the prime minister whose government controls RAI and who also owns the state broadcaster's only rival, Mediaset.

Controversy first erupted over the government's control of Italian state broadcaster RAI in March, after the parties in Berlusconi's coalition were awarded top managerial jobs at RAI1 and RAI2 as well as their influential news programmes, raising new fears that current affairs programming would be slanted in favour of the government.

At the same time, the Italian Parliament passed Berlusconi's controversial law on conflict of interest. Although the centre-left opposition stormed out of Parliament before the vote in a sign of protest, votes from Berlusconi's centre-right coalition were sufficient in number for the law to be passed.

Barely one month later, critics' fears appeared to be grounded in reality when Berlusconi publicly said he would fire two of RAI's top anchormen and a popular satirical comedian who had been openly critical of his centre-right government on RAI programmes.