On Dec. 4, 1974, the Constitutional Court declared Italy's ethereal monopoly unconstitutional, kicking off a process that would lead to the proliferation of private radio stations around the national territory.
Tune in: The television monopoly will implode
Francesco Monico Italy Daily |
July 03, 2002
Curiously, the ruling also ignited another process, one that turned out to follow a completely different social and cultural trend: several commercial television broadcasters were created and a lucrative advertisement market began to expand.
Twenty-eight years after that sentence by Italy's supreme court, Italian television watchers find themselves back in a monopoly situation. It is quite a different monopoly than the one that dominated the nation's broadcasting world before 1974. This time, both private and public televisions are under joint command.
Despite any ostensibly liberal economic and political views, Italian capitalism has in fact canceled economic and political democracy, abolishing pluralism in communication. The liberal program for communication reform is heading towards centralized control rather than a free market.
According to the philosphers Franco Berardi and Stefano Bonaga, this trend can only be stopped by a self-awareness campaign waged by those who work in the media industry.
The two men have started Telestreet, a broadcaster based in a Bologna apartment building. While the initiative has more symbolic than real communicative power, it amounts to a clear manifesto whose champions exhort us all to live the acquarium in which we live.
Berardi and Bonaga may be inspired by the intuitions of Marshal McLuhan, the Canadian humanist and media analyst who depicted man as a servile tool of technology who is unable to realize just how much technology affects his or her self-perception.
It is extremely difficult for television man to achieve awareness, just as it is hard for fish to realize just what water is.
Television controls us because it sways our desires and the models by which we tend to prefer to take our news.
For that reason, today, whoever controls television also controls power.
The television monopoly that has been set up in Italy uses political power to fuel its communicative power.
However, research done by the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology in Toronto suggests that generalist television is moribund. The real social energies of communication are moving in another more web-like direction.
Consider the word. Tele-vision, in its broadest sense, means viewing, from a distance, a stream of syntagmatic audio and visual images that define an editorial project based on information presented in linear time.
Active viewers require that this model be dynamic.
Media analyst Aldo Grasso, in his "Encyclopedia of Television," published in 1996, argued that whenever a program tries to involve viewers, even if only in an illusory manner, it has had at least some success.
Even simple elements such as the tele-command that allows viewers to zap, or talk shows that take cues from live telephone calls enjoy this success. Spectators are attracted by the possibility that they might participate interactively with a broadcast.
Extrapolating, it seems the viewer's desire to be part of the televised social event allows him or her to break the magical singularity of the cathode ray tube, shattering it into a myriad of channels and sub-channels.
The trend is for a new television system to emerge, made of a slew of small neighborhood broadcasters, each with small staffs that survive on revenue from local advertisements, that come together in a national syndicate that in turn broadcasts only the most important news around the whole country.
Anticipating this trend, we'll see television productions link into a territorially articulated neighborhood-based grid linked in a circuit by short-range microtransmitters. Local producers will put out new messages, which will be inter-connected by a webby network that guarantees an imperceptible but profound level of interactivity. That, in turn, will spark spectators to "awaken" and form their political opinions on the basis of information, news and ideas obtained from such projects as Telestreet.
This is not preposterous.
Today, the predominant input for the social brain of a majority of Italians comes from the boob tube. What will emerge is a hyper-fragmentation of opinions: Each producer will have his or her own view, each micro-television station will have its own editorial line in an ideal system that is both open and free.
This will of course boost to a maximum the demagogic tendency of the television medium itself, obliging a deep and sweeping revision of our syntax rules and cultural models.
We're heading for a Babel of opinions, a world of freedom informed by emerging grassroots media.
The Telestreet proposal offers an interesting and mysterious notion of the future.
It may be only an idea now, but it is technologically sound and could in fact be the path of real television reform with interesting socal and political consequences.
Francesco Monico is a media research fellow of the Marshall McLuhan Program in Culture Technology at the University of Toronto. Comments to him can be addressed to email@example.com.