MILAN (Reuters) - Enzo Biagi, the veteran Italian journalist who publicly clashed with Silvio Berlusconi ahead of his election as prime minister in 2002, has died at the age of 87, a source at the clinic where he was staying said on Tuesday.
Biagi, born near Bologna in 1920, was one of Italy’s best-known commentators and a stalwart of public broadcaster Rai for over 40 years.
He angered Berlusconi in 2002 when he allowed comic Roberto Benigni to make fun of the centre-right leader on his show, Il Fatto (The Fact), likening campaign material from the owner of rival broadcaster Mediaset to a comedy film.
Berlusconi said Biagi had used Rai “criminally” for the benefit of the left -- which he defeated in the election -- and vowed his administration would put a stop to it. Biagi in turn called for Rai’s freedom to be respected.
“I have been working here since 1961 and this is the first time the Prime Minister has set the programming,” Biagi said.
The row festered for months until Biagi left the broadcaster in September, 2002.
He wrote a book about the feud, “What you must not say” (Quello che non si doveva dire), which was published in 2006.
When news spread that Biagi was in critical condition on Friday evening, Berlusconi said he was “very sorry” and wished him well.
Biagi had been at the Milan clinic for more than a week with heart and kidney problems.
He was a life-long journalist, starting his career when he was 18 with a job at the Bologna regional daily “Resto del Carlino.”
He fought with the Italian resistance during the war and then returned to journalism to direct weekly Epoca from 1952 to 1960 in Milan.
His move into broadcasting came in 1961 when he joined Rai and became director of news programme Telegiornale. Biagi cultivated a very lean style, with few words and sharp comment.
With his trademark big-framed spectacles and white hair, Biagi was known for his interviews and current affairs broadcasts on such Italian themes as the “Clean Hands” corruption investigations of the early 1990s, the mafia and arms trafficking.
His interviewees ranged from Robert and Edward Kennedy to Giulio Andreotti, from Sophia Loren to Woody Allen.
He kept his ties with print journalism through editorials and contributions to Italy’s leading newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica.
In April 2007, after a year of a new centre-left government under Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Biagi returned to Rai.
“There have been some technical hitches and the disruption has lasted five years,” he said at the start of the programme.
Biagi’s autobiography “Era ieri” (It was yesterday) was published in 2005.
Biagi married Lucia Ghetti, a schoolteacher, on December 18, 1943. After she died, Biagi published a book in 2003 about their long-lasting love. “Dear Lucia, I have no other way to talk to you and I am writing you a letter you will never read. It is just another way to stay with you a little longer.”
(Reporting by Antonella Ciancio)
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