* Critics say new RAI head is pro-Russian nationalist
* Anti-system parties promoted his candidacy
ROME, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Italy’s lawmakers appointed a eurosceptic journalist as chairman of national broadcaster RAI on Wednesday in a move set to strengthen the populist government’s grip on the country’s biggest television group.
Marcello Foa, who was nominated by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the far-right League ruling parties, obtained the necessary two-thirds majority of support in the parliamentary committee that oversees RAI.
Foa’s critics say he is a pro-Russian, anti-euro nationalist, who has promoted a far-right agenda in his journalistic career.
His appointment was held up for weeks after media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia (Go Italia!) party, joined opposition centre-left ranks to oppose his candidacy.
However, Berlusconi gave Foa the green light last week after holding talks with League leader Matteo Salvini. Berlusconi has not explained his U-turn. Opposition politicians said he changed his position after receiving assurances that the government would not undermine his family’s Mediaset firm.
“This move will slaughter pluralism, competence, respect for the rules and respect for professionalism within (RAI),” said Michele Anzaldi, a senior figure in the centre-left Democratic Party and a member of RAI’s oversight committee in parliament.
As chairman, Foa will play an influential role in helping RAI’s board set a strategy for the broadcaster.
“RAI is usually the place where new political projects are tested,” said a RAI veteran journalist asking not to be mentioned. “Foa will have a say on the quality of TV shows and news output ahead of European parliamentary elections.”
With a daily viewer share of almost 34 percent and more than 11,000 employees, RAI is arguably Italy’s most important and influential media group. Its main competitor is Mediaset.
Foa has spent much of his journalistic career working for the right-wing Il Giornale newspaper that is owned by Berlusconi’s brother.
In a confirmation hearing before the parliamentary committee, Foa defined himself as an “old-style liberal ... committed to the defense of a plurality of information.”
Last May, Foa said on Twitter he was “disgusted” by the decision of President Sergio Mattarella to reject the appointment of eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona as economy minister.
The day after he told Russia Today, a Russian international television network funded by the Russian government, that Italy was facing a “very serious crisis because the president is apparently violating the constitution”. (Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni Editing by Crispian Balmer and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)