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Sommary intervention Enrico Menduni

Turin Prix Italia, Rai – 24th september 2009

Giuseppe Richeri

Professor in Media Strategies, Institute Media and Journalism
Dean of the Swiss Italian University in Lugano

Which public television for what kind of society?

It seems difficult to directly address the idea of a public service with a European dimension when the very concept of a public television service has long been in crisis and is everywhere subject to reconsideration. In my country this reconsideration has given rise to rise to much debate but it has made little headway since there has not been the courage to radically modify the accepted points of reference in order to reconstruct the legitimacy of the public television service, its identity and its function of general interest.
This reconsideration has so far been focused mainly on four areas: the relationship with political powers, competition with the private sector, new technologies, and economic resources. Without considering that the idea that is still prevalent of a television service and its role has long since been superseded because it was created and consolidated in a social context radically different from that of the present.

At that time it was believed that the vast majority of people had socially relevant and unsatisfied needs for information, education and entertainment informative, educational and entertainment needs. People thought that public radio and television services were the right means for satisfying these needs in the most extensive, rapid and cost-effective way. There was a widespread consensus on the need for the state to intervene also outside the national school education system with teaching tools in order to encourage and promote the culture of its citizens. Television was considered a powerful means for the unification, integration and modernization of the country and at that time the television was a monopoly of the state.

Today's society is profoundly different from that of the past, just as the economic resources available to individuals and families are different, as well as the nature of their material and non-material consumption, their needs and their desires. For this reason one must begin to reconsider the public radio-television broadcasting service, as regards its functions and its social interlocutors, not only as regards new technologies, competition with the private sector or its relationship with political power and even less as regards the inefficiency and wastage of the public television networks. These are all problems that will come later on. Do most people in the country still need information, education and entertainment has informative, educational and entertainment needs has which it is unable to satisfy with its own economic resources and intellectual means? What are the components of the "new" society that need public television services today? To what extent should the state deal directly with setting up media content? Is television still able to offer elements of shared identity, cultural unification, political participation and the promotion of culture?
I believe that these are some of the questions which one should reflect upon in depth so as to courageously reconsider the legitimacy, not formal but substantial, and the function of public television services today.

Television and the European Union

One must have the courage to take stock of the European initiatives in the field of television by comparing the objectives, the resources invested and the results achieved. If one cannot speak of a total failure, I think we can say that there have been many and few significantly positive results when one considers the high expectations.

Particularly in Italy it would be difficult to argue that European television initiatives have contributed towards noticeably increasing the knowledge and the sense of belonging to Europe of Italian TV viewers. The case of Euronews is characteristic and emblematic of this. It is true that Euronews is better than nothing, but its impact on wider television audiences, to whom it is most important to propose suggest offer an opening towards Europe a European opening is absolutely minimal.

I believe that finding relevant and effective initiatives to strengthen the adherence to the "European project" (but which one?) of citizens in all member countries, the old as well as the new, is a commitment that is not only important, but increasingly necessary. Nonetheless I do not think that a public television service of a European scale is the right route to take. Not so much due to the amount of fruitless "European" experiences accumulated over the past few decades and not even due to the difficulties associated with the economic package, the technical platforms, the management and organization of the company, the formats and programmed schedules, etc. All of these are prominent factors aspects with obvious inherent difficulties. My criticism instead lies behind these issues and I will try to summarize it as follows.

Relations between European citizens and Europe (institutions, policies, initiatives, problems, etc...) vary from country to country (I stop at this level) and they are strongly influenced by typically national historical, economic and socio-cultural factors.

The construction of Europe is a proposal to resolve the problems of these citizens and improve their living conditions. In order to enable them to gradually accept positively metabolize the various phases of this construction, so as to feel increasingly positive and involved, I think it is necessary to not base ourselves upon Europe, but upon people’s national identity to help them to understand and appreciate the function and role of Europe in each specific case. The European policy in the sugar industry has a very different impact in Germany, Italy or Hungary. The European strategies in the field of large transport infrastructures involve the spaces, territories, countries and citizens of Europe in a different way, etc.
For the general public only the national and local media channels are able to perform this vital function of mediation between "European information" and national and local contexts. In other words, without an operation of "localization" European news is difficult to understand, interpret or appreciate. This is because the contexts of reference of European citizens are national and local and it is within this context that European news may be seen as relevant as an information service.

A European television agency

Is there nothing to be done then? I believe that the main objective to be tackled is that of increasingly bringing Europe into national television programming and into the contents now offered by a variety of technical platforms and forms of access. One only has to watch the main news and information programmes of the public and private television networks to realize how little the activity of European institutions, the timing of general relevance and those that regard the relations of dependency interdependencies between its partners are present in the information service available accessible to the general public.

In order to encourage this perspective among the useful initiatives there could be the creation of a "European" agency able to develop a systematic and coordinated action on various levels and in various different directions including:

• A productive function: setting up semi-finished materials on the issues on the agenda of European institutions to be offered to the various newsrooms of various media that can then "locate them" and insert them into the contents they offer (schedules, containers, etc.).

• A promotional function: negotiating initiatives of cooperation with individual newsrooms and editors producers broadcasters regarding specific European issues or national and local issues with a European relevance or interest.

• A function of commutation switching exchange trade replacement: receiving proposals and input from individual newsrooms broadcasters, concerning which it is possible to get other European partners involved.

• A function of intermediation between individual newsrooms broadcasters editors and the various structures of European institutions.

• An intermodal function: planning and encouraging the spread diffusion on various platforms and media of the contents of their own origin and those realized by the various partners.