Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Scots' Invention of the Modern World

Just been reading "The Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots' Invention of the Modern World" (check it out at []), in which Arthur Herman argues that the Scots - through our thinkers and engineers, and later through our successful export of over three million Scots to far-flung corners of the World - are responsible not only for tremendous technological developments, but also for those aspects of modern culture which emphasise experimentation, free markets, strong belief in the utility of education.

I enjoy the book because (a) it gives facts to sustain beliefs I already had, (b) helps in chauvinist battles against the English, and (c) is quite well-written.

But it is important to note that the author's definition of 'Scottish' is both elastic and not 'traditional'. It is elastic in that it includes Ulster Scots, quite anglicised Scots, and, sometimes, those educated in the Scottish mould - going so far as to claim Gibbon's Decline and Fall as a Scottish work in the best tradition of Henry Kames' Sketches on the History of Man.

Second, the definition of Scottish used is not 'traditional' - in that it doesn't play on traditional pastiches of Highland life cooked up by Scott. This is a strong point, in that these pastiches are pretty awful (even if they benefit tourists), but I think the author under-emphasises the extent to which, if the Scots created the British Empire and more, the English also created the Scots. (There's a good Hobsbawm essay on this).

Still, very worth reading. I dare say I'll fare better in future chauvinist Anglo-bashing in future :)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Election of a President to the Senate

Crystal ball gazers ought in full force to scry for messages in the marathon session to elect a President of the Italian senate. The Corriere article
Maratona al Senato puts it well. Given that senators, on a third ballot, were still making obvious mistakes - omitting the centre-left candidate's first name, or putting Francesco instead of Franco - "it's difficult to think of distractions or errors, and easier rather to consider them as internal messages within the majority". Who wins from this protracted game, and what message result, is for anyone to guess. Maybe if a lot of money starts going to the Sudtirol we'll know.

Friday, April 28, 2006

First test for Prodi's coalition has rolling coverage of the fight to nominate the Presidents of the two Chambers. For the Chamber of Deputies, Fausto Bertinotti looks a shoe-in - but, having failed to get two-thirds of votes on the first round, voting must go to a second round, in which a bare majority suffices.

For the Senate, it's a battle between Giulio Andreotti and Franco Marini. The centre-right chose Andreotti to try and peel off centre-left voters, but, with the exception of senator for life Pininfarina, it doesn't seem to have worked, with Marini looking set to be elected in a second round of voting.

Given that the vote is secret, parliamentarians are writing candidates' names on a ballot paper - which has led to some unusual results, and some votes which rather call into question the ability of some of those elected. One voter managed to get confused, and opted for a composite candidate, "Giulio Marini". Unfortunately for that person, Giulio Marini exists and is a centre-right senator.

In the Camera, the first round of voting - with a requirement for a two-thirds majority - has allowed some in the centre-left to show their independence. There seems to be an 'awkward squad' on both flanks: diessini disappointed with the choice of Bertinotti who voted for D'Alema (13 votes), leftish democristiani who voted for Gerardo Bianco (7 votes); even communists who prefer transsexual Vladimir Luxuria (2 votes) to Bertinotti.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Rai's Director-General

Utterly predictable ruling from the Italian communications watchdog Agcom: Rai director-general and former Agcom employee Alfredo Meocci is found to have violated Agcom's rules by leaving Agcom to work for Rai, which Agcom regulates. Professor Alessandro Pace submitted a brief to the Rai administrative council on just this issue, but the centre-right members of this council found their own legal experts who argued differently. With extremely slight licence fee settlements, Rai doesn't need the extra cost which the fines connected with the case represent.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Changeover in Mediaset's flagship news bulletin

Interesting article from on Lamberto Sposini leaving Tg5. The article is interesting not for Sposini's departure, but rather for more evidence on the politico-electoral cycle which afflicts Italian news media. 3rd paragraph down:

'The editorial assembly "made clear the concerns raised during the meeting, amongst which the clear knowledge that a historic period for this news programme has finished, and the uncertainty that surrounds its future"'

Its unclear whether the historic period refers to a founder of Tg5 leaving, or the end of the government of Tg5's ultimate patron. Perhaps this is the time when differences over Mediaset's treatment of the elections will come to the fore.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Gasparri law and the SIC - or why normal anti-trust rules don't work here

Following on from yesterday's post, there seems no third way to resolve the tremendous conflict of interest posed by Berlusconi's control of the media. Whilst in many other countries, existing anti-trust or media legislation would be used to break up or otherwise ameliorate Mediaset's dominant position in the Italian media, that doesn't seem possible in the Italian case.

At the moment, prevention of anti-competitive positions in the media market is governed by the provisions of the infamous 2004 Gasparri law. The Gasparri law (here in English) followed a much stricter 1997 law, according to which no single subject could control more than 30% of the television market. The Gasparri law abolished this restriction: no single subject may now control more than 20% of the entire media market - the so-called Integrated Communications System, or SIC. The problem is, no one knows quite how big the SIC is, and there was more than a sneaking suspicion at the time of the passage of the law that the SIC was a legal fiction designed to protect Berlusconi's media empire.

(There's a wonderful passage in Sabina Guzzanti's film Viva Zapatero! which deals with this.
"Let's take the example of Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola has a dominant position in the world of soft drinks. To stop Coca-Cola from being dominant, I extend the definition drink to all liquids, like whisky, river water, sea water, ocean water - then I say: "look at all the water in the world, Coca-Cola is no longer the dominant liquid")

But almost two years after the passage of the Gasparri law, the communications watchdog has still not rendered a judgement on the size of the SIC, or whether anyone has reached 20% of the SIC. According to this March press release, the communications watchdog is 'shortly' to arrive at an estimate of the size of the SIC. Will this estimate be consequential?

This wikipedia article gives no source when it claims (1) that the total value of the SIC is €87 billion and (2) that the absolute value of the 20% limit is more than the absolute value of the previous, 1997 limit. If both are true, then it looks unlikely that Mediaset's control over the SIC is in violation of the Gasparri law.

At the same time, there has as yet been no definitive judgement - so a safe, technocratic (but only partial) solution to the problem is still possible.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Revisit Gasparri or introduce conflict-of-interest legislation / Lex - Lex: Silvio lining: FT notes three options for the Prodi government in dealing with mediaset: (a) revisit Gasparri, (b) introduce conflict-of-interest legislation, (c) beef up Rai. I wonder whether there's a third option - using antitrust legislation to attack Mediaset? I'm guessing that Rai and Mediaset enjoy (at least) duopoly status in the market for TV publicity. Again, this would require a communications watchdog that takes instructions or hints from the left.

Sunday, April 23, 2006 runs Fausto Bertinotti's call for a smaller Mediaset second on its front page this Sunday. It provokes immediate and predictable condemnation from the centre-right, and tepid criticism from others in the centre-left.

The centre-left's reaction to Bertinotti's call is disappointing, and is perhaps a sign of how cautious the left is. The Constitutional Court, with a 1994 ruling, signalled that the control of more than 25% of the television market was unconstitutional. The centre-left, in its own programme, has called for the introduction of greater competition into the audiovisual sector. But because the centre-left is afraid to be seen to be attacking the losers of a divisive election, the right-wing of the centre-left must distance itself from Bertinotti.

Granted, revisiting the Gasparri law, and the legislation on conflicts of interest, will be nightmarishly complex, and it's probably not something to which immediate energy should be devoted. But it would have been better to pass over this comment with judicious silence than trash it in the way Clemente Mastella did.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

With the election of the head of state due on the 12th and 13th April, I haven't heard many names touted for the post. Big contrast with all the other posts, like the Presidents of the two chambers. L'espresso has an interesting poll which runs through the candidates: Amato, Ciampi, Bindi, Bonino, and Giorgio Napolitano. Napolitano's strong showing surprised me. Ciampi-bis, the second most popular option, is, I think, still unlikely. I've nodded off during a lecture by Rosy Bindi, so I wouldn't favour her. Bonino and her positions I like, but might be too polarising. Let's hope that none of the fied get burned too quickly.