Watchdog OKs Foa as RAI president

Journalist, 55, takes over at State broadcaster

(ANSA) - Rome, September 26 - The parliamentary oversight committee for RAI on Wednesday approved journalist Marcello Foa as new president of the State broadcaster.
    Foa, 55, was approved with 27 ayes, three nays, one blank ballot and one spoiled ballot.
    The three-third majority required was this reached.
    He had been approved by the RAI board last Friday.
    Earlier Foa said he had never intended to "offend or disrespect" President Sergio Mattarella when he tweeted "disgust" after the head of State rejected anti-euro economist Paolo Savona as economy minister.
    Addressing the RAI parliamentary oversight committee, Foa said "it's not my habit, I rarely attack or lack respect, far less with regard to the top figure in the State, because of my feelings of esteem in his regard, out of respect for his role as servant of the State and his history, which saw the supreme sacrifice of a member of his family".
    Foa was referring to Mattarella's elder brother Piersanti who was assassinated by the mafia in 1980.
    Mattarella's rejection of Savona - later moved to the European Affairs brief - spurred the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement to briefly call for his impeachment.
    Foa is widely expected to be ratified later Wednesday after three-time ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi dropped the opposition that caused the journalist to be rejected in an earlier oversight body vote.
    On Tuesday Rai union USIGRAI said there is a risk of "illegitimacy" over Foa's probable ratification. The union wrote to the parliamentary Speakers Roberto Fico and Elisabetta Casellati as well as to the parliamentary RAI oversight panel urging them to carry out "an in-depth assessment to ensure the legitimacy, beyond all reasonable doubt, of the vote you are about to take".
    The RAI board on Friday voted to nominate Foa its new president.
    The board also nominated Foa, the government's pick to lead the network, in July, but parliament's oversight body of the State broadcaster failed to ratify the appointment.
    This time, however, Foa is expected to get a majority vote as Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party is tipped to drop its opposition.
    Deputy Premier and 5-Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio said Foa was "an independent journalist" and said he hoped the oversight body would approve him this time around.
    He said the whole process had been "in the light of day", denying secret deals.
    Berlusconi reportedly agreed to Foa at a meeting with ruling League leader Matteo Salvini where he reportedly received assurances on his Mediaset media empire, RAI's rival.
    Foa is a controversial figure due to previous Euroskeptic, pro-Putin, anti-vaccine, anti-gay and anti-immigrant stances and his sharing of fake news including Hillary Clinton's supposed Satanic dinners - as well as the tweet against Mattarella.
    The centre-left Democratic Party (PD) leader on the RAI oversight body, Davide Faraone, said Foa's appointment had been the product of a "shameful shady deal" between the government parties and Berlusconi.
    He said it was an affront to "democracy and parliament".
    In other statements to the oversight body Wednesday, Foa vowed to uphold RAI's "pluralism" and "independence", as well as its "capacity to serve readers with humility and intellectual honesty". Foa is a former foreign desk chief at the Berlusconi conservative family newspaper, Il Giornale.
    He was hired by the late doyen of Italian journalism, Indro Montanelli.
    The FI chief on the oversight body, Giorgio Mulè, said Foa had "reassured" him and that Berlusconi's party would vote for him, making his approval inevitable.