Thursday, July 27, 2006

Prodi lives to fight another day

Two sighs of relief for the Prodi government. First, the Senate approves the Italian mission to Afghanistan after the government made it a vote of confidence. Second, the Camera approves by the required two-thirds majority amnesties for certain crimes - and the minister who opposed it, Antonio Di Pietro, doesn't resign.

Members of the centre-right had left the Senate to deprive the centre-left of the quorum; immediately after the vote, they complained that the quorum had been calculated incorrectly. As Altero Matteoli explains,
"There are 322 senators; 4 were on mission, so the total goes down to 318, half of which is 159. So there wasn't the legal number, that's 160 [50% + 1]".

Marini explained however that "to the 159 present one always adds the non-voting President - there's no doubt about it".

Although the centre-left won this vote, 16 senators from six parties (Verdi, PRC, PDCI, SVP, IdV, DS) defected on other provisions of the bill. It remains to be seen whether these sixteen will form a future 'awkward squad'.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More Thompson replies to politician's queries

More Axegrinder 21.07.06 | Press Gazette: "BBC director general Mark Thompson put his foot in it with a Labour MP during his appearance in Westminster last week. Thompson was being assailed by MP Mike Hall about a BBC programme called The Secret Policeman, which, in Hall's words, used 'criminal elements' in its production.

'If you'd care to write to me about it,' Thompson told the whingeing MP.

Hall (steam shooting from his ears): 'I did write to you! I had an extensive correspondence with you!'"

SNP demands meeting over BBC job cuts — SNP - Scottish National Party

SNP demands meeting over BBC job cuts.

SNP Holyrood leader Nicola Sturgeon is asking for a meeting with director-general Mark Thompson after reports of a further round of cuts which could jeopardise flagship BBC television and radio output... Further budget cuts again underlines the need for broadcasting to be devolved to Scotland

In what sense? A Scottish Broadcasting Corporation? Supervision of the BBC by the Scottish Parliament? Passage of Scottish media legislation?

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Satisfaction with Prodi government

Satisfaction with the Prodi government increases, according to this ISPO poll. The government now has net positive ratings: 43% evaluated the government positively (up 4 from late June), 31% negatively (down 10).

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Fox attacks BBC's Iraq coverage

Independent Online Edition > Media: "Liam Fox, the shadow Defence Secretary, has accused the BBC of pumping out 'unrelentingly negative' reports about Iraq without giving adequate coverage to more positive developments."

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Minister Gentiloni shares more thoughts on Rai's reorganisation

Paolo Gentiloni's initial thoughts on Rai's reorganisation - which I covered earlier this month, seem to have hardened. In an interview with the Corriere della Sera (reprinted here), Gentiloni suggests that Rai ought to have a rather complex structure. Rai is to remain a single company, but is to have three separate accounting units/subsidiaries:

  • One unit running two 'public service channels', with less advertising, funded by an increased licence fee

  • One unit running a 'commercial' channel, with more freedom to sell advertising space, not funded by the licence fee

  • One unit running the television transmitter network

The reorganisation is justified since necessary: "The EU has imposed separate accounting (of state aid to profit-making companies) on us. After much hunting, I found this requirement in the Commission's Communication on the Application of State Aid Rules to Public Service Broadcasting, para. 49. Of course, what Gentiloni fails to note is that this requirement has been incumbent on Rai since 2001.

Gentiloni's scheme seems comically awkward. How will Rai - no stranger to internecine battles - be able to avoid either (a) cross-subsidisation or (b) poaching of resources between wings of the company?

The potential for conflict even now is noted in Il Giornale, which comments on the appointments rumour-mill in Rai. Paolo Ruffini, currently director of RaiTre, moves to RaiUno; Giovanni Minoli takes his place at RaiTre. Yet Giornali views Minoli as bound to cause problems at RaiTre because of his "centralising nature", and Ruffini as bound to face problems at RaiUno, "spending 90% of his time managing the space demanded by Bruno Vespa, the autarchic pretensions of Bibi Ballandi,", and so on.

I've got a lot of time for Paolo Ruffini - when I interviewed him last year he responded thoughtfully and carefully to my questions in print - and also denied a lot of the things said about him by Sabina Guzzanti.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

BBC reorganisation

The BBC today announced a very thorough plan for re-organisation (coverage from Netribution and Press Gazette). The plan creates three large macro-units, BBC Vision, BBC Journalism, and BBC Audio, which will form the core of the BBC's organisation. Other units which ply their trade across the BBC - Future Media & Technology (FM&T), Policy, Strategy and Legal, HR, Finance, and so on, - are either 'mainstreamed' into the three macro-units, or merged with other units. For example, Policy, Strategy & Legal becomes BBC Operations, with the same person, Caroline Thomson, taking over as COO in addition to her previous policy and strategy brief.

The thinking behind the plan seems appropriate: in conditions of convergence, rigid demarcations between content platforms (television, radio) make little sense, and may inhibit the development of platform-independent content. Demarcations based on media type, however, remain salient; they are suitable candidates for reshaping any organisation which manufactures content.

There are, I suggest, two principal challenges. The first challenge is for those units mentioned above - FM&T and Operations. They must ensure that they don't become absorbed by the macro-units without making their input felt. The second challenge will be for the entire organization: the pace of change at the BBC now seems very great indeed. BBC Worldwide and BBC People are already morphing; and the new BBC Trust is an entirely new institution. Making sure these newly carved pieces fit together smoothly in the jigsaw will be an important managerial challenge. Fortunately, organizational change has not been accompanied by personnel change. The same individuals - Mark Byford, Jana Bennett, Jenny Abramsky - will be able to manage the change.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Politica in Italia 2006

I came back from Stockholm to a pleasant surprise: two copies of Politica in Italia 2006, featuring an article I co-authored with David Hine on the Berlusconi government's reshuffle last year. The package was addressed to 'Prof. Hanretty'. Well, I can dream.

Buy the book here.

RTVE in the Balearic islands

An interesting example of how content monitoring can be used to further charges of bias. One of the members of the RTVE council has accused the local RTVE franchise there of being biased, on the grounds that the PP was given only 7% of screen time despite forming the regional government.

Unfortunately, the story provides little information on how this information was collected. The complainant, María José Ramirez, bases her complaint on "a study of the last six month's news, carried out by an independent organisation" - but which independent organisation, and according to what criteria, is unknown.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Morgan Poll on media bias in Australia

As part of my doctorate, I'm researching the political independence of public service broadcasters. This is a difficult concept to define, much less measure. One approach is to ask people whether they perceive the broadcaster to be independent - or impartial, or biased. (The latter two are very different to the former, but may be an acceptable proxy, since polls show that media attitudes are largely covarying). This Roy Morgan Research Poll looks at perceived bias in Australia.

The poll is an example of how to approach this problem badly.
First, the relatively small sample size of 700 pushes the margin of error up to 4%.

Second, some of the questions can't be interpreted without controls. For example: how are we supposed to interpret the fact that relatively few people think internet news biased - when we don't know how many of the sample regularly use the internet or have any familiarity with it?

Third, the poll uses broad categories: newspaper journalism, television journalism, and 'talkback radio'. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this; but it doesn't help with answering the important question of whether ABC is biased, or whether some newspapers are biased - for example, those owned by Murdoch, or by Packer.

Fourth, the poll makes extensive use of open response questions, such as inviting individuals to name reporters they think biased. This prevents comparability over time and space, and may deliver misleading results if respondents name merely those respondents they are most familiar with.

Fifth - and evidence that the poll is, at best, pitched to increase interest in its findings, or, at worst, a push poll funded by interested parties (there's no info on the commissioning party) - the poll asks about left-wing bias, but doesn't ask about right-wing bias. Some might say that it is self-evident that there is more danger of left-wing bias than right-wing bias. But this is not at all self-evident, and asking questions about both types of bias would in fact help to confirm or disconfirm this presumption. Certainly, BBC polling in the early nineties found that more respondents thought the BBC was biased towards the (right-wing) government than the reverse.

We can say, however, that television tends to come off better than the printed word. This is unsurprising: regulation of poltiical content on television tends to be stricter than that applied to the press; the printed word has more regulatory room to be biased.

There isn't much that is specific to ABC: one reporter identified as biased comes from ABC (compared to three from Nine); and 0.5% of the sample believe ABC News as a whole to be left-leaning. But, again, without asking separate questions about different news outlets, these results are of little worth.

I understand from this page that ABC commissions polls on this - but it makes the same mistakes - on the crucial issue of 'being balanced' it has no comparison with other broadcasters, merely comparisons over time.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A single party of the (centre-)left?

According to SWG more than two-thirds of left-wing voters would look favourably upon the creation of a single left-wing party; the resulting party could reliably count on 31.5% of the electorate, roughly the same as the DS and Margherita polled in April. However, the result polled by the DS and Margherita represented a peak for those two parties; the Partito Democratico's total electoral market could be as large as 45.5%.

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RAI DG Cappon assembles team

Rai's Administrative Council yesterday made three key appointments: Giancarlo Leone was made vice-director general, Lorenza Lei, head of TV Resources; and Nicola Claudio, chief of staff to the Director-General. Leone was formerly head of RaiCinema, and had been considered for the job of director-general before in 2002 (source: Bruno Vespa, Rai: la Grande Guerra).

Leone is an excellent choice. First, he and Cappon enjoy working with each other; Cappon appointed Leone head of Rai's old Division One (RaiUno, television resources) when he was director-general in 2001, and told me that he thought Leone "intelligent, competent", and a "good political one":
"he has the skills that are needed there. He doesn't breathe oxygen - he has adaptive lungs!"
Leone was also rated highly by that other 'technocratic' Rai DG, Pierluigi Celli, who had hoped to appoint Leone as director of RaiUno in 2000 (source: Vespa, ch. 12).

Leone is also an excellent choice because he has bipartisan support. As a son of a Christian Democrat President of the Republic, Leone has good contacts amongst democristiani: Vespa described him as close to "Letta, Casini and Follini" amongst the current UDC leaders. Yet Leone also has contacts on the left, and, perhaps crucially, was not in a highly visible post during the period of the Berlusconi government. He was not, therefore, known as 'gradito alla destra', and so is not 'burnt' in the eyes of the left.

Here, though, is a danger for Leone. Whilst government pressure is rarer under centre-left governments, Rai is subject to different political pressures during such periods. That is, Rai occasionally has problems dealing with its internal left-wingers at RaiTre, who, when 'bipartisan' appointments are made, claim that Rai is witnessing a 'return of the democristiani', who - one presumes - will impose a traditional Christian Democrat morality on television output. (Company union Usigrai has sometimes made this complaint, though I can't find any examples at present).

Thus, Leone must show himself not just centrist - as are many democristiani - but also bipartisan, and, to the extent possible, also apartisan. BBC executives are bipartisan in the sense that they enjoy broad political contacts across the left-right spectrum; but they are apartisan in that these political contacts in no way structure their choices over television or radio output.

Update: Tvpolitik also judges Leone's appointment 'una bella mossa'

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Rai's alleged 'black list'

According to weekly Gente - and repeated at Dagospia [not work safe], Alexis [not work safe], and now the Corriere della Sera - the Administrative Council of Rai has voted unanimously on a list of 28 names who are not to appear on Rai in future. Most of the twenty-eight are involved in the Savoia prostitution scandal. Rai has denied that any list has been agreed. The fullest list comes from Alexis, and features:
  1. Elisabetta Gregoraci, hostess on Il Malloppo, who allegedly slept with Gianfranco Fini spokesperson Salvatore Sottile in exchange for help with her career in Rai
  2. Corrado Tedeschi, presenter, Cominciamo bene l'estate, on RaiTre
  3. Cristiano Malgioglio, C-list celeb on L'isola dei famosi
  4. Maria Monse, writer
  5. Paoletta Saluzzi
  6. Gigi Marzullo, sports journalist, Quello che e il calcio
  7. Maria Mazza, ex-wife of footballer Francesco Totti
  8. Caterina Balivo, daughter in law of former Communications minister Antonio Maccanico
  9. Angelica Russo
  10. Stefania Orlando
  11. Cannelle
  12. Antonio Zequila
  13. Adriano Pappalardo, singer
  14. Carmen di Pietro, from l'Isola dei famosi
  15. Antonella Elia
  16. Sonia Grey, host, Sabato, domenica e...
Some of these individuals - Mazzo, Balivo, Russo, Orlando, Cannelle - had talked to the prest about l'affaire Savoyard; others - Gregoraci, for example - were directly involved. Insofar as any clear picture can be drawn, it is this:
  • certain female presenters believe it to be the case that they must sleep with politically well-connected men to advance their career in Rai; this may or may not in fact be the case;
  • damage to Rai's image is taken seriously by the current board and dealt with in a formal fashion;
  • such board decisions are not declared openly
  • perhaps because of this lack of openness and suspicion of behind-the-scenes manouevring, decisions about which minor celebrities are to appear on television become items of news for national newspapers.
  • The perception that Rai does not hire and fire based on evaluative grounds, but instead 'purges' its staff of undesirables, is bolstered

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Gentiloni on Rai privatization

Paolo Gentiloni outlines his plan for the Communications sector before today's hearing in front the Culture Commission. He discusses the currently stalled privatisation of Rai, indirectly quoted as follows:

Gentiloni punta alla riorganizzazione dell'assetto societario che contempli una divisione tra l'attività di servizio pubblico, l'attività commerciale e le reti [Gentiloni hints at the reorganisation of the corporation, considering a division between public service activities, commercial activities, and the network].
This division of labour may, perhaps, be appropriate. However, it is equally appropriate to remember that there are significant transaction costs in organisational restructuring, and Rai has already paid such transaction costs during two previous episodes of restructuring which were 'inspired' by political developments. Under Pierluigi Celli, Rai was 'divisionalized' in order to allow a split between the commercial channels RaiUno and RaiDue, and the public service RaiTre. That split - envisioned by the legislative proposal 1138 - never took place. Then, under Flavio Cattaneo, Rai was centralized again, as key functions - scheduling and publicity - were pulled from the individual channels.

Both these moves cost money and time. They also upset people, and led to numerous polemics about purges in Rai. Rai should ensure that any reorganisation fits Rai on its own terms; or that, if Gentiloni insists on legislating a new design, that the legislative process is carried out with due haste.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

world cup celebrations

Congratulations to the Italian team for having won last night - and congratulations to Rai for having won an incredible 84% audience share for its broadcast of the final. Seems like Rai retains the PSB prerogative of being the 'go-to' channel for major national events...

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Public broadcasting news from UK, France, Spain

News from public service broadcasting-land. In the UK, the BBC has just released its annual report, publication of which led to a round of stories about excessive executive pay at the publicly funded broadcaster. The key trope of the report is the use of key performance indicators - part of a "performance management framework". Alongside "Service Licences" for each channel, KPIs will include:
  • audience reach, share
  • quality (audience reports programme to be of of high quality; or, programme is original programming and originates in UK)
  • impact (audience perception)
  • value for money (cost per listener/viewer hour)
This framework "was assessed by the National Audit Office in 2004" and "continues to be developed".

These kinds of things are enormously useful for the BBC - it helps, for example, to have a record of how many 'commercial' songs are played on Radio 1 when for-profit competitors complain about the station's overly mainstream orientation.

The BBC also promises, every three to five years, a poll of 10,000 respondents to provide "valuable indicators of important trends and needs". That's a very large poll - enough to give significant results in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and several English regions - and represents an enormous commission for whichever polling group is chosen (probably Ipsos-Mori).

The most important feature which is not mentioned in the report is how the Governance Unit - which aids the Governors - will be able to brief an almost entirely new set of BBC Trustees. Michael Grade is probably right when he writes that "the fact that the independence of the BBC endures is due in no small part to their robust stewardship" - but this stewardship depends on strong esprit de corps. Will that remain in the trust?

In France, Patrick de Carolis is ending his first year in charge of France Télévisions. Chosen, according to Le Figaro (reported here), because he was a programme-maker, not a "manager" like his predecessor Marc Tessier, de Carolis nevertheless seems to be a strong, centralising manager.
« Ça a marché plutôt bien, commente un membre du CSA, Carolis a un peu mis fin aux baronnies des chaînes.»
In my work on Rai, I've argued that baronies were crucial in undermining the political independence of the organisation. I don't know whether France Télévisions is similarly torn apart by centripetal forces, but de Carolis seems to have at least shown that he can move the network where he wants it to go.

Finally, in Spain, RTVE has increased its ad take by thirteen percent - necessary given its parlous financial state - and parent company SEPI has reached agreement with trades unions over employee numbers in the 'new, all-improved' RTVE that will, one hopes, be the result of the Zapatero government's forthcoming law. (.zip file containing details of the agreement here).

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Processo diritti tv, rinviati a giudizio Berlusconi e Confalonieri - cronaca -

I don't know what this says about differences in news values between Italy and the UK, but the BBC ran the story about Berlusconi's indictment for fraud first on its UK RSS feed, Repubblica online, fifth, and Corriere third - behind news about the ongoing Juventus match-fixing scandal and other World Cup news. Possibilities: the Italian media doesn't like to hit Berlusconi; or it was perfectly obvious to Italian observers that sooner or later Berlusconi would get hit again.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Majority infight #2

Majority infight number two comes from a different quarter: Clemente Mastella (Udeur), Justice Minister, makes ominous noises about withdrawing from the government coalition and pledging instead 'external support' to the Prodi government - and this because the coalition's recently-announced plan to liberalise various professions touches on certain functions previously assigned to the Justice Minister.

  1. When Mastella talks about "espropriazioni di titolarità che toccano [a lui]", does he mean grants of authority somehow contained in a written statement of the Justice ministry's remit, or simply authority given to the Justice Minister by previous laws? If the latter, his outburst seems a bit petulant
  2. Was this discussed in the Council of Ministers - and wouldn't Mastella have had the chance to bitch about it then?
  3. If Mastella did bitch about it then - and was sufficiently annoyed to threaten 'appoggio esterno', did no-one react to this threat?
  4. Does he actually believe that a Justice Minister in this day and age should have authority over professional associations in a manner that, in some cases, harks back to the Fascist era?
(By the way, if anyone can find the text of the 'decreto Bersani', they're better at using the Gazzetta Ufficiale site than I. Not that that necessarily says much, or that one would even wish to claim such a thing).
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