One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
(La Radio Audizioni Italiane -RAI- Un pas en avant, deux pas en arrière)
10 / 1995
In 1975 the Italian parliament passed a bill to overhaul the RADIO AUDIZIONI ITALIANE (RAI), which at the time was a public radio and television monopoly. The bill was the result of a battle fought over ten years by left-wing forces to bring about decentralisation both inside and outside the structures of production. The bill introduced a representation of regions and trade unions in the decision making bodies; it provided for public access broadcasts and the total abolition of censorship; and control of radio and television was to pass from the ministerial level to parliament. The underlying strategy of the battle first and then the bill was the same: democratisation of the monopoly was seen as the only way to have a radio and television system that could respond to the citizenry’s interests and enable them to participate actively in communications.
But these hopes were short-lived. Between 1977 and 1978, three developments on the country’s political scene changed the lot of communications. First the Constitutional Court liberalised radio and television. Second, the RAI was split along the lines of the political forces in government: RAI Uno came under the control of the Christian Democrats (DC)and RAI Due, under the Socialist Party (PSI). In 1979 a third network came into being; it was supposed to be regionalised but, after some ten years of fruitless effort, the regionalisation program was scrapped and the network passed into the hands of the opposition, that is, the Italian Communist Party (PCI). Third, the group of Bettino Craxi took over the leadership of the Socialist Party and changed the organisation’s orientation in accordance with certain principles: anticommunism, defence of the market economy and transformation of the Italian social State’s culture of solidarity into a culture of ambition and social and professional Darwinism. Then the party and Craxi himself sank into the mire of corruption, scandals and trials. Both the PSI and the DC disappeared from the Italian political scene, but they left deep marks on middle class culture, mostly through the privately-owned media.
In the late 1970s, some of the prominent publishing houses (Mondadori, Rusconi)founded television channels that soon went bankrupt. The channels were sold to a construction entrepreneur who had already created a television chain and had the benefit of powerful political backing and therefore substantial bank credits. His name: Silvio Berlusconi. Since then, a mere ten years after deregulation began and measures were taken on its behalf, the new communications giant built up an empire. The founding editors of the first private national television stations made the mistake of modelling their work on the RAI and trying to provide quality programming with advertising on the side. What Berlusconi did, however, was to turn this model on its ear and use advertising as the centrepiece ("I am not at the service of the public but at the service of business," he asserted). He surrounded the ads with cultural but functional programming and thereby won over a huge audience. Thus he unscrupulously played all the cards of free enterprise to beat the RAI. The latter, being constrained by its adversary, embarked upon a suicidal course.
In 1992, the Italian parliament passed a new law regulating the radio and television system. The system was accurately described as a two-sided monopoly consisting of the RAI and Fininvest. In addition to having Berlusconi’s assets, Fininvest has among its shareholders Leo Kirch, from Germany; Al Waleed, from Saudi Arabia; and Johan Rupert, from South Africa. The double monopoly gobbles up 95% of advertising resources, leaving 3% for the few inter-regional stations and the remaining 2% for the close to 700 local stations. The new law, moreover, ignores the new technologies, thereby leaving Italy on the sidelines of the worldwide circuit for the time being. (In the last few days, the government has declared that cable and satellites will be taken into consideration).
Then last April, the referendum battle ended in electoral defeat, and all the positions defended by the Fininvest group and the centre-right forces in television circles won out. This result is not definitive, though, because the Constitutional Court ruled that the double monopoly should be eliminated. Consequently, the prospects of a new fight tend to widen the field of competition by increasing the number of entities operating on the market; they also tend to regulate democratically the whole information system with the introduction of a strong authority, to balance the advertising market and to address, finally, the problem of the new technologies.
And what about everyone’s right to communicate? I think the present state of affairs calls for a strategy review; it is perfectly normal for the battle to move from the arena of the traditional media to the electronic media and the information highway.
Translated into French and Spanish.
Professor Ivano Cipriani is chair of Theory and Techniques of Mass Communication in the Department of Performance and Literary Communications at: Tre-Terza Università degli Studi di Roma, Via Madonna dei Monti, 40, Roma, 00184, Italia. Tel. (39 6)481 4093. Fax (39 6)488 3962
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Videazimut, Fightingfor the Right to Communicate in. Clips, 1995 (Canada), 9
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