Out of all the European countries, Italy has the lowest broadband penetration rate and the lowest number of people with internet access. The digital divide contributes to a wide gap between two parts of the country, while e-commerce is still in its infancy. To make things worse, the country is ruled by a gerontocratic political system, often corrupt, which has immense control over the TV and therefore has no interest in investing into new communication technologies. What’s the reason behind this delay and short-sightedness of Italian policy makers?
Could you briefly summarize the current state of the Italian digital media system?
In an old song by Renzo Arbore, a father says to his son: “Listen/ just a word of advice/ you’ll be in charge/ as long as you hold the remote control in your hands (senti un po’/ solo un consiglio è quello che ti do/ tu nella vita comandi fino a quando/ hai stretto in mano il tuo telecomando). It’s hard to think of a more effective phrase to summarize the relationship between television and Italian society. Italy is the reign of the TV and the remote control represents its wand. It has been like this since we watched man walking on the moon on our black and white TV screens. In the last ten years, there has been changes all over the world: the computer is gradually taking the place of the television, fiber optics are replacing roof aerial, and the mouse is the new remote control. More importantly, the Internet and not the television played a decisive role in the last US presidential election. Such a revolution has only marginally touched Italy though, as it has deliberately chosen to to stand on the sidelines during this change.
Why did this happen?
It happened because for years the television has been the main instrument used to influence political and economical decisions in my country. As a result, the Internet and emerging information technologies are seen as rivals against the television, especially because they may hinder the power dynamics that underlie media policy-making.
It looks like Italian politicians fear the web.
Information dispensed through traditional mass media can be easily controlled, manipulated or even censured. This can be done either by political interests through the public national broadcaster, or by economical interests through the private television sector. Information on the web, on the contrary, is spread by a plurality of voices which is difficult to control. Italian politics are not used to dealing with such a high level of free information. The web represents a threat particularly for the current government, since it has more power over the broadcasting system than its counterpart and thus has more to loose. Although, we are wrong if we think that the Left parties are strenuous supporters of the Internet. So far, their perception of the web lies between suspicion and indifference.
So, how to detract Italians from TV watching?
I think that a solution could come from new Internet-connected TVs. If we manage to replace television broadcasting with online content via new devices, we might achieve that goal.
Is there any European country Italy should look at as an example in terms of digital innovation?
It’s hard to say, as no country was well-equipped to deal with the rapidity of the digital revolution, and everyone has been caught unprepared in some aspect or another. Some countries, such as France and Germany, have been more receptive towards the potential benefits of the new technologies. But even in France, for instance, policy-makers didn’t resist the temptation to enact conservative legislation in order to please the content industry, such as the case of HADOPI.
How do you suggest tackling the digital divide which still leaves almost half of the country with no access or with a slow connection?
The priority is providing connectivity facilities. We need a new and ramified cable infrastructure covering all the country. Secondly, we need to work on digital alphabetization. Italians are quite illiterate when it comes to new technologies devices…well, except for mobile phones, we are crazy about them!
Last year Italian Government tried to approve the gag law, which provoked strong protests within the blogosphere and eventually didn’t pass. Will there be some more attempts to obstruct freedom of information on the web?
As long as Italian politicians perceive the web as a threat and think they can rule the country through the remote control, yes it’s likely they will try and do it again.
The drafter of the above mentioned law was Paolo Romani, who at the time was Vice Minister and has recently been appointed as the Minister of Economic and Communication Development. Imagine if you were in front of him, what would you say?
The web is not a television, nor can you turn it into one through a law. The Internet is a free space where no country can impose its own law, since free information will always find its way to circulate. It’s better to renounce the idea to stop the web and consequently the economic, cultural and democratic developments in our country. Italy would rather benefit from the amazing opportunities the web has to offer.
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