Sunday, August 27, 2006

The BBC's "Green Book"

"Extreme care should be taken in dealing with references to or jokes about - Pre-natal influences (e.g. 'His mother was frightened by a donkey')".
This wonderful quote from The BBC's "Green Book", or the Policy Guide for Writers and Producers of Variety Programmes. The Guidelines, which date from the fifties, are extremely, unwittingly, entertaining.

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Who did Prodi want for Rai DG?

Good gossip from Prima Comunicazione on the recent choice of Claudio Cappon as RAI DG. Apparently, Romano Prodi didn't want Prodi, but instead Antonello Perricone, MD of the editorial house that produces La Stampa. Prodi had counted on peeling off centre-right members of Rai's Administrative Council, but his point-man, Angelo Rovati, messed up his counts. So, the Margherita and the Democratici di Sinistra got their man in Cappon, and Petruccioli managed to reach compromise with the centre-right for them.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Politicians over-estimate media effects

Nordicom Review 1-2/2004 - Publication: "Mass Media, Interpersonal Communication or Personal Experience? Perceptions of Media Effects among Swedish Politicians" - is an interesting article demonstrating that politicians are far more likely than the general population to be believe that the mass media is extremely influential slash decisive in forming people's political views - something I've long suspected. Possible reasons adduced:
  • because politicians reacted strongly to a particular program, they assume others will too (law of small numbers);
  • because politicians saw a particular program, they assume others did too (increasingly unlikely given different media consumption patterns)
  • simple exaggeration of the media effect

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dissent within Rai CdA rumbles on

For some weeks now, Rai Administrative Councillor Angelo Maria Petroni, one of the right-wing members of the Administrative Council, has been threatening to resign. Petroni, along with Chairman Claudio Petruccioli, was nominated by the Italian Treasury in 2005 under the centre-right government, and confirmed by the parliamentary committee which supervises Rai.

Petroni's resignation threat causes a major legal and political headache. The law which governs appointments to Rai's administrative council, the so-called Gasparri law, says that, should a council member resign, his or her replacement shall be appointed in the same way he or she was originally nominated. Thus, should Petroni resign, the Treasury would be entitled to nominate another member of its choosing, subject to confirmation by two-thirds majority from the parliamentary committee.

This is the legal situaton. Politically, Petroni's resignation would cause problems for Petruccioli. It seems unlikely that the Treasury would be willing to accept a council member acceptable to the centre-right members of the committee. Conversely, it seems unlikely that the centre-right members of the committee would be willing to accept any council member nominated by the Treasury, for even if that person was free of the slightest hint of partisan bias, their nomination by the Treasury would instantly taint them as such.

Thus, in order to broker compromise, the Treasury would have to nominate a replacement for Petroni - and for Petruccioli. Only this way would both sides feel as if they had protected their patch of political turf within Rai.

(This, at least, is how I understand it. I cannot understand the claim made in Legno Storto, that: "should Petroni leave, the balance introduced by the Gasparri law forsees the appointment of an opposition Chairman").

The enforced resignation of two members of the CdA would be bad for Rai. It would rob Rai of managerial and/or supervisory expertise: Petroni has previous experience of serving on Rai's administrative council, and Petruccioli seems quite competent as Chair. More importantly, enforced resignation would reinforce the belief that Rai must be subjugated to changing political balance.

How then best to deal with Petroni's resignation, should it arrive? One modest proposal is that the Treasury should nominate a single person, but make the process so open and transparent that the centre-right can't possibly object. So:
  • Publish a job advert in all major newspapers
  • Contract a head-hunting firm to solicit applications
  • Get the head-hunting firm to draw up a limited shortlist of no more than three
  • Choose from this shortlist, and publish the names of those not chosen.

I think that would help. But political hay can be made even under a pale sun when in Italy.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

RTE Business - TG4 independent from next year

Ireland follows the Australian route of providing two (linguistically differentiated) public service broadcasters, as TG4 becomes independent from RTE. Concern for RTE must be that (visibly, incontrovertibly) non-commercial, public service remits are not cherry-picked from RTE, leaving the rump service poorly placed to defend funding through compulsory licence fee.

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Sveriges Television

I'm hoping to include Sveriges Television as one of my cases in my PhD. I had thought that Nordic stoicism might make SVT less interesting than, say, Rai or RTVE. Not if Rapport keeps putting out news like this it won't be.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Incredible data-mining project on US Senate

Ars Technica has a fascinating report on a major data-mining project involving the Congressional Record. The project uses an unsupervised learning program to automatically code several million speeches as one of forty (automatically generated) categories. The authors show some interesting variation in agenda salience over time demonstrating this method, suggesting that the method is attuned to fluctuations. The model could be relatively easily ported to other languages, including Italian, as long as one has a program to 'stem' the words so as to populate the vocabulary matrix.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Osservatorio di Pavia

The media observatory in Pavia regularly collects info on politicians' time on screen on all Rai channels. Recently, it seems that certain on the right have been complaining about an absence of Berlusconi from Rai's screens. Mauro Mazza, director of Tg2 - not, I would have thought, a committed centre-left supporter - says some pretty sane things which show up the weakness of existing attempts to monitor political bias:

"To maintain that we're against Berlusconi is like saying that Il Tempo is for Prodi. In the same way that Il Tempo publishes lots of photos of the Prime Minister; - but it does it with caricature, or highlighting his errors. By this I mean that it's not important how long we speak about a politician for, but rather the manner in which we do so.... the data [from Pavia] need to be interpreted, they're not the Gospel".

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Prodi government status report

Quick update on the health of the Prodi coalition:
  • The Camera has approved the executive's mini-budget. It goes tomorrow to the Senate, where it will again be the subject of a vote of confidence
  • The government has already used votes of confidence on seven separate legislative items in three months (according to an interview with Gianfranco Fini); the Berlusconi II government used 29 votes of confidence in four years.
  • The frequent use of this device has been criticised both by those on the right as on the left; even Romano Prodi has apologised in part.
  • The confidence vote is not always certain to succeed given either (a) particularly strong preferences about a particular issue, or (b) a cock-up; moreover, its use strains relationships between executive and parliamentary majority, exacerbating the situation
  • Scenting this weakness, some within the centre-right - in particular, Casini and Fini - have offered an 'understanding' on the passage of this year's budget

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