Friday, October 27, 2006

Accusations of bias against Tg1

"Anche questa sera e' andata in onda una edizione del Tg1 sfacciatamente faziosa". Lo afferma Giorgio Lainati, capogruppo di Forza Italia in commissione vigilanza Rai. [Repubblica]

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Music for tomorrow's Bar Fiasco shift

I thought I'd post the music I wanted to put on at my shift in bar fiasco tomorrow night...





Somebody Dance (Sven & Friends edit)

The Killers vs David Bowie
Emotional RescueThe Rolling StonesForty licks (Disc 2)1980
Life o' The PartyPrinceMusicology
Hey LadiesThe Beastie BoysThe Sounds Of Science (Disc 2)1999
Concrete SchoolyardJurassic 5Jurassic 5 - J51998
The Don of DonsThe NeptunesThe Neptunes Present...Clones
It Blows my MindThe NeptunesThe Neptunes Present...Clones
Evil (Rollercoaster Project remix)InterpolDreamboat Records December 20052005
Satellite Anthem IcarusBoards Of CanadaThe Campfire Headphase2005
I KnowThe Beta BandThe Three E.P.'s1997
Essex DogsBlurBlur1997
Tears From The Compound EyeBoards Of CanadaThe Campfire Headphase2005
Set the Controls for the Heart of the SunPink FloydEchoes: The Best of Pink Floyd (Disc 1)1968
Us & ThemEasy Star All-StarsDub Side of the Moon2004
Sun is ShiningBob Marley and the WailersOne Love - The Best Of...
4th Time AroundBob DylanBlonde On Blonde1966
Music Is My RadarBlurThe Best Of (Disc 1)2000
Boys Keep SwingingDavid BowieLodger1979
Fistful Of LoveAntony & The JohnsonsI Am A Bird Now2005
The GunLou ReedThe Very Best Of1999
I'm Just A Killer For Your LoveBlurBlur1997
Mutual SlumpDJ ShadowEndtroducing.....1996
6/8 WarLeftfieldRythm and Stealth
Push UpstairsUnderworldEverything Everything: Live [IMPORT] [LIVE]2000
CherubsArab StrapElephant Shoe1999
Can't Get You Out Of My HeadThe Flaming LipsKylie Minogue Cover - Live BBC2002
Mr. Ambulance DriverThe Flaming LipsAt War With The Mystics2006
U.K. Girls (physical)GoldfrappFelt Mountain2001
ComeLemon JellyLemonjelly.ky2000
Stay LooseBelle & SebastianDear Catastrophe Waitress2003
I'm A CuckooBelle & SebastianDear Catastrophe Waitress2003
Sheriff Of Hong KongCaptain Beefheart & The Magic BandDoc At The Radar Station
Love Floats TwoThe BatsSilverbeet1993
The HustlerBeachwood SparksOnce We Were Trees2001
Netty's GirlThe Beastie BoysThe Sounds Of Science (Disc 2)1999
Redemption SongBob Marley and the WailersOne Love - The Best Of...
Accross 11th street (Jackie Brown)Bobby WomackSound Track
The Crooked Road And The BriarCalexicoRough Trade Shops: Country 12003
Modern ParlanceCandidateNuada2002
A=ACha Cha CohenOut Of Our Heads On Skelp2003
Lost In The SupermarketThe ClashLondon Calling
Pass It OnCoralMagic and Medicine2003
StayDavid BowieBowie At Beeb: Best Of BBC Radio 68-72 (Disc 3)2000
D.J.David BowieLodger1979
TimeEasy Star All-StarsDub Side of the Moon2004
Strugglin' Horse In HollywoodElla GuruRough Trade Shops: Country 12003
She's Got A ProblemFountains Of WayneFountains Of Wayne1996
Monkey Gone To HeavenFrank BlackFrank Black Francis (Disc 2: Treated Disc)2004
Darts Of PleasureFranz FerdinandFranz Ferdinand2004
Stray Dog And The Chocolate ShakeGrandaddySumday2003
In Remote Part / Scottish FictionIdlewildScottish fiction2003
No FunIggy PopNude & Rude
Static On The RadioJim WhiteDrill A Hole In That Substrate And Tell Me What You See2004
Caroline, YesKaiser ChiefsEmployment2005
TrannyKings of LeonYouth and Young Manhood
Backstreet GirlLambchopIs a woman2002
This CorrosionLambchopIs a woman2002
Give Me Your Love (Love Song)LambchopWhat Another Man Spills1998
Is A WomanLambchopIs A Woman2002
Phat PlanetLeftfieldRythm and Stealth
Dance Me To The End Of LoveLeonard CohenVarious Positions1985
A Nanny In ManhattanLilysBetter Can't Make Your Life Better
MezzanineMassive AttackMezzanine1998
John McLaughlinMiles DavisBitches Brew (Remaster) (Disc 2)1969
Dial: RevengeMogwaiRock Action2001
Ratts Of The CapitalMogwaiHappy Songs For Happy People2003
LoserThe NeptunesThe Neptunes Present...Clones
Execution DayThe New PornographersMass Romantic2002
Guns of BrixtonNouvelle VagueNouvelle Vague2004
Track 02OutkastThe Love Below
Track 11OutkastThe Love Below
...and Carrot RopePavementTerror Twilight1999
Bad Cover VersionPulpWe Love Life2001
Losing My TouchThe Rolling StonesForty licks (Disc 2)2002
The SkinsScissor SistersScissor Sisters2004
Turn A SquareThe ShinsChutes Too Narrow2003
Skip TracerSonic YouthWashing Machine1995
BecuzSonic YouthWashing Machine1995
Night VisionSuper Furry AnimalsGuerrilla1999
Big In JapanTom WaitsMule Variations1999
Some Kinda LoveThe Velvet UndergroundThe Velvet Underground1969
I Cut MyselfWannabe TexansRough Trade Shops: Country 12003
Seven Nation ArmyThe White StripesElephant2003

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Leaked BBC minutes on impartiality

This is London takes up this story about the BBC's 'impartiality summit'. The paper's spin is that the summit was an admission that the BBC is 'biased'. In particular, "the BBC is dominated by trendy, Left-leaning liberals who are biased against Christianity and in favour of multiculturalism".

If the minutes of the meeting are accurate, and if the quotes reported are correct, and if they are given in their correct context (and some of them are not - Andrew Marr's quote about the BBC being a liberal institution is meant in a philosophical or epistemological sense, not a political one), then what are we to make of it?
  1. the fact that the BBC is dominated by left-wing people should not surprise: journalists across the world are more likely to support left-wing parties than right-wing parties, and journalists in the UK One 1996 study by Tony Delano found that 55% of UK journalists were Labour voters, and only 6% Conservative voters;
  2. ... but this is irrelevant because journalists' values don't matter that much. People who've spent time studying the production of the media have emphasised how journalists' output is often conditioned more by the organisation they work in than their own personal beliefs. Change the organisation, and you start to learn the ropes there; eventually, what you write changes;
  3. If an excessively politically-correct mindset is now pervasive in management and the structures they create, this is more worrying. In particular, the write-up of the article suggests that the beast has a life of its own. Why in God's name should Mark Byford, Head of News, have to secretly agree to help Justin Webb shore up the BBC's coverage of America instead of calling a meeting to discuss the issue?
  4. This 'problem' concerns cultural issues more than (party-)political ones. The BBC has had decades of negotiating between positions on the left and right of politics. It has become adept at assuaging the fears of both sides. These points, although not fixed, have established reference points (Labour and the Conservatives). Cultural issues are much more difficult. Cultural viewpoints rarely have authoritative spokespeople who enjoy the kind of substantial rapport with their base to mute criticism. Additionally, cultural issues are much more heterogeneous, and difficult to satisfy all at once. If the BBC lets its news-readers wear 'whatever they want', is it being pro-Muslim (by allowing news presenters to wear veils), pro-Christian (by allowing news presenters to wear crucifixes), or merely liberal (by allowing them to wear whatever they like)?
  5. This bias, however, is not 'sinister'. Those people who comment on Biased BBC often write in what Richard Hofstadter called the 'paranoid style' - they assume that, behind every manifestation of bias or impartiality, there is a conspiracy which created the impartiality, which desires to further some aim. This seems unlikely at the BBC - and the very fact of calling an impartiality summit should help critics to recognise this. (Which is, of course, why the BBC is doing it).

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Marco Follini leaves the UDC

Marco Follini, former secretary of the UDC, has decided to leave the party, founding his own group, l'Italia del mezzo.

This was not unexpected - Follini had left his post as party secretary a while ago, and had carped about his party's policy and Berlusconi's leadership of the centre-right. What is surprising, at least to me, is the willingness of Italian politicians to found new parties which have negligible electoral prospects.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

RTÉ responds to government's proposed media reform

In response to the previously announced government consultation exercise, RTÉ has responded to the government's draft broadcasting bill with a fair amount of red ink. Politically relevant concerns are the following:
  1. In order to fall under companies legislation, RTÉ is to be constituted as a single-shareholder company with one shareholder, a cabinet minister. RTÉ argues that this would mark the change from public broadcasting to state broadcasting, in that RTÉ has not, since the passage of the 1960 Broadcasting Act, been part of the state apparatus.
  2. the general scope for intervention - whether by ministers or by the new Broadcasting Authority Ireland (BAI)
  3. The chief executive of the BAI should be appointed by the minister after public consultation.
  4. a new right-of-reply is far more generous than existing rights guaranteed by the Broadcasting Act 1990;
  5. the provision for RTÉ's independence is couched with the qualification, "subject to the qualifications of the act", which, on RTÉ's reading, mean that RTÉ is not independent in many areas of its management;
  6. The requirement that the director ensure "gathering and presentation [of news] which is accurate and impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism" - a phrase which I hadn't noticed before - is impossible vague.

Trust and politicians' ability to leave things be

As a sideline, I've been reading about trust in governing institutions. Does the political independence of broadcasters depend on whether politicians trust the broadcasters to report truthfully or accurately? If so, might existing low levels of trust prevent an improvement in the relationship?

Working through one wonderful article on LBJ's psychology, I came across the term 'sinister attribution error': "the tendency for individuals to overattribute hostile intentions and malevolent motives to others' actions". It struck me as a perfect description of Italian politicians' attitude towards television coverage, as essentially motivated by the grinding of partisan axes.

Unfortunately, the literature on trust suggests that phenomena like sinister attribution error are difficult to eradicate. As Diego Gambetta has written, low trust "prevents people from engaging in the appropriate kind of social experiment" necessary to invalidate false beliefs about the objects of distrust. So, LBJ was unable to check whether Bobby Kennedy though himself a threat to LBJ (he didn't) precisely because he thought Bobby Kennedy was a threat to LBJ.

Monday, October 16, 2006

New Director-General for Sveriges Television

Eva Hamilton, SVT's Head of Fiction, was last Friday appointed Director General of the Swedish public broadcaster. With experience in SVT's News department, she comes to SVT after having worked for Aftonbladet ("independent social democrat") and Svenska Dagbladet ("independent, conservative") [Source for these judgements: BBC Media monitoring].

Past appointments in RTVE

Now that RTVE Director-General Carmen Caffarel is calling on politicians to name high-quality independent members of RTVE's future Board, I thought it might be useful to see whether, in the past, Directors-General have frequently been tossed out by over-mighty boards. I finally found this list of previous Directors-General. Let's have a look:
  1. Fernando Castedo (Jan '81 to Oct '81)
  2. Carlos Robles (Oct '81 to July '82)
  3. Eugenio Nasarre (Jul '82 to Dec '82)
  4. Jose-Maria Calvino (Dec '82 to Oct '86); appointed after PSOE victory of Dec '82;
  5. Pilar Miro (Oct '86 to Jan '89); appointed four months after election of June '86;
  6. Luis Solana (Jan '89 to Feb '90);
  7. Jordi Garcia (Feb '90 to May '96); survived election of 1993; appointed four months after election of (late) October 1989;
  8. Mónica Ridruejo (May '96 to Feb '97); appointed two months after PP victory of 1996;
  9. Fernando López-Amor (Feb '97 to Nov '98)
  10. Pío Cabanillas (Nov '98 to May '00);
  11. Javier González (May '00 to July '02); appointed two months after PP victory of 2000;
  12. José Antonio Sánchez Domínguez (July '02 to April '04);
  13. Carmen Caffarel (Apr '04 till present); appointed one month after PSoE victory in 2004 elections;

Thirteen directors-general in fifteen years. An almost perfect "political vulnerability score' - Alex Cukierman's index for the likelihood that an office will change hands within six months of a change in government (the exception may be Jordi Garcia, who survived the transition from a majority PSOE government to a minority government). A hard tradition to break?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

New Italian media law announced

The Prodi government has agreed changes to Italy's framework media law, reducing generous antri-trust limits set by the previous Berlusconi government.

Public broadcaster Rai and private corporation Mediaset - owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi - enjoy a de facto duopoly over Italian television. Each has three of seven national terrestrial channels, and their advertising affiliates control over 90% of all television advertising. The law requires each organisation to move one channel to digital terrestrial television (where no organisation may own more than 20% of the market), and sets a limit of 45% on advertising sales. Mediaset's advertising arm, Publitalia, currently enjoys a 62% share (source: RepubblicaRadio).

By attacking the commercial interests of Mediaset, the government opens up a political debate with Silvio Berlusconi's party Forza Italia and his centre-right coalition, the House of Liberties. Berlusconi has attacked the law as "banditry".

The design of the law approved yesterday forecasts the transfer of one Rai and one Mediaset channel within 'fifteen months' of the law's passage. Passage through Parliament, however, may be difficult for the government, which enjoys an extremely narrow majority in the Senate. Whilst the government is unlikely to face significant problems within its own ranks, it may be vulnerable to procedural obstacles placed by the opposition.

Obstacles to implementation:
This is not the first time that Rai and Mediaset have been ordered to move channels to digital. A previous reform, which also set limits on publicity, was over-turned by a 1995 referendum. Berlusconi has already called for a referendum should Parliament fail to block the bill.

Should the law pass, and should two analogue channels become vacant in spring 2008, it is unclear who would wish to take up two national channels with only four years before digital switch-over and the shut-down of the analogue network. The most immediate and significant impact of the law would be to damage commercial prospects for Mediaset and Rai. Mediaset shares have dropped 1.5% this morning; their performance over the past three months has been dismal.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

CSA creates a new category

Earlier this year, the CSA found it had a problem when considering UDF deputies who were dissenting from the government line. Did they count in the government's share of screen-time according to the 'rule of three thirds'? The 'sages' have now resolved the difficulty, with the creation of a new category - neither government, nor opposition. This new category will not, it seems, be relevant for the rule of three thirds.

RSS feed about the BBC

I've only just noticed that the BBC Press Office has an RSS feed for news about the BBC itself. It contains links to notices on appointments and other useful things.

The current items are rather confusing, because many of the 'appointments' are either (a) posts which have been re-named as part of Mark Thompson's re-shuffle; or (b) posts which replace existing posts. The proliferation of titles - Controller, Heads, Directors - makes the appointments difficult to understand without an organigram.

Of the nine appointments, only one - Peter Salmon, Chief Creative Officer (BBC Vision) - is an external hire. He comes from Channel 4 after several years at the BBC. Five had had experience working with ITV or Channel 4. Three - mostly in MC&A - have come from outside the media (Coca-Cola, Bass Brewers). None are BBC 'lifers', but all have some experience at the BBC - from four to around twenty years', to be more precise. Those involved with content - as opposed to marketing or HR - seem to have been around the BBC for longer.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Are public service broadcasters important? Will they be so in the future?

Five years ago, a number of contributors to OpenDemocracy - largely drawn from the UK - discussed the merits of public service broadcasting (PSB), compared explicitly against the market and implicitly against some ideal broadcasting service which delivers just the right amount of merit goods. The key questions were normative - ought PSB exist, and ought it to be funded in the way it currently is funded - but relied on empirical judgements about the extent to which PSBs fulfilled the normative goals set out for them: variously, providing diverse and meritorious programming which is capable of contributing to pluralistic democratic debate within the broader public sphere.

The most pungent contribution came from David Elstein, who argued that the market was capable of fulfilling these normative functions. The two strands of his argument were (1) that during the period of moderate competition in the UK media market in the second half of the twentieth century, private suppliers - ITV - made programming of high quality, including high quality news and current affairs, and (2) that, in any event, the end of spectrum scarcity means that diversity and pluralism will be secured even better in the future by new private entrants. Consequently, the normative justification for public service broadcasting - or at least, publicly funded broadcasting - is no longer operative, and public funding for the BBC should dry up.

I do not share Elstein's optimism about the capacity of private suppliers to supply large amounts of merit programming; but I think that even if his argument were correct, the policy prescriptions he seeks would not be forthcoming. Politicians - perhaps because they are avid consumers of one of the most obvious types of merit programming, news and current affairs - have not been willing to tolerate gradual elimination of PSBs. Even in those countries where the public service broadcasters have most manifestly failed their remit, in Italy and Spain, governments have been willing to refinance these broadcasters, at some considerable cost to their Treasuries, at times of difficulty (1993 and 2006 respectively).

It might be thought instead that funding for PSB is contingent on continued high audience share and high audience reach, with PSBs who fall below a certain percentage share condemned to ghettoisation and reduced funding streams. If this is the case, the technological developments noted by Elstein may represent a problem for PSBs. If each additional entrant into the television market reduces PSB share and/or reach by a certain amount (even if the marginal amount is constantly decreasing), will the PSB still retain sufficient share or reach to command a claim to public finances? Or, if new means of communication reduce the relevance of television as part of overall media consumption, will PSBs claim a large enough share of this broader media market to lobby sucessfully for continued public funding?

If, as I believe, the continued rude health of PSB depends more on these more prosaic and measurable features of the media market than on notions of quality and the provision of merit goods, what are the current facts regarding PSB audience share?

First, when people want news and information, they turn to television. From the Eurobarometer surveys, we know that 70% of people in the EU15 watch television news every day. That's more than the 41% of people who read a newspaper every day. When people actively look for information on politics in the EU, for example, television is cited as the most commonly used source by 65% - 73% of respondents; newspapers and radio still edge out the internet, and the gap remains several percentage points.

We also know that, when they turn to television, people still turn to public service broadcasters. The European Audiovisual Observatory publishes data on the audience share of television channels across Europe. Of the 19 PSBs in Old Europe (broadcasters in the EU15, plus Norway and Switzerland, plus linguistic PSBs in Belgium and Switzerland), nine have increased audience share over the period 1995 - 2004; ten have decreased audience share. This is no artefact of the competitiveness of the media market in these countries - increased audience share was found in Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, and Norway, which all have high take-up rates of digital terrestrial and satellite television.

Moreover, PSBs are not losing audience share dramatically. Only four PSBs - Radio e televisao de Portugal (RTP), RTÉ, Sveriges Television and Osterreichische Rundfunk - have lost more than one percentage point audience share a year, and only RTP has slipped below the symbolically important 25% figure.

Finally, some PSBs have built up major web portals. The BBC News website is the eighth most visited in the world, and the only one in the top ten to provide content (the other is Microsoft). Italian PSB Rai has been less successful: it lags behind other domestic telecoms groups (Telecom Italia; Wind; Kataweb; RCS) but stills beats its commercial competitor Mediaset. Consequently, should internet media consumption be rivalrous with traditional television and or radio consumption - and evidence on news consumption in the United States suggests that it is not - then PSBs can be well placed to meet the threat.

In conclusion - for those considering it, it's still worth writing a thesis on public service broadcasting, and still worth reading one. PSBs retain significant audience share and are not losing it fast enough for obituaries to be taken out of deep freeze.

RTVE Administrative Council and election coverage

This article detailing election coverage in the Catalonian elections is interesting for two reasons. First, it's another reminder to Britons that the debates about the distribution of party political broadcasts is astonishingly conflict-free - or at least appears that way. Second, it's the first time I've seen reference to the (national) RTVE board of administration, and, significantly, references to members include party affiliations. If Carmen Caffarel is to succeed in her ambition that the new Council of RTVE should not be "a platform for confrontation between political forces", this latter will need to change.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Must satire be parti pris?

Luttazzi: non mi vuole neanche la Rai di sinistra - La Stampa Web: Daniele Luttazzi, persona non grata at Rai ever since Silvio Berlusconi's 'editto bulgaro', has this to say about the politics of satire:
«The satirist must be interested in who is in power: who is there is there. The right argues that the satirists make left-wing satire: no, the satirist is of the left, and makes satire from his own point of view. There can't exist neutral satire - it would be trying to please everyone, satisfying no-one... The argument, however, becomes vulgar and insulting when someone like me is accused of giving the left an easy ride. Last September... I did fifteen minutes on the Unipol scandal at the Festa dell'Unita [left-wing gathering, note].. the kids applauded, the middle-aged froze up".

So, satire is always from a particular point of view, but it may not favour or benefit that point of view or its exponents. Is the commitment to impartiality held by public service broadcasters compatible with viewpoints of the left or right with are neutral with respect to their consequences for the left or the right, or must public service broadcasters adopt the 'view from nowhere', to quote from Tom Nagel? And if so, does that mean that PSBs can't do satire - or that if they do so, they must do so without fully understanding what they do?

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Rai - filo-governativo and disrespectful in one smooth package

RaiNews24 reports that four left-wing politicians (Giorgio Merlo, Margherita; Gennaro Migliore, RC; Loredana de Petris, Verdi; Esterino Montino, DS) have complained to Rai about the broadcast of the 'Prodi rap' during a news bulletin. The centre-right, in the shape of Altero Matteoli, accuses the left of stamping out 'liberty of expression', which presumably Rai enjoys.

At the same time, however, the centre-right - now in the shape of Paolo Bonaiuti - criticises Rai for being servile in its treatment of the Government's recently passed budget.

It would be a wonderful innovation if we could have evidence-based criticism considering Rai's coverage of politics over the medium-term - after all, why else does Agcom collect such voluminous data on politicians' screen time?

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Update on Italian politics

A friend recently asked me to give the five-minute version of what's going on in Italian politics. Here's my version, given in best Economist style:

"Dear Anna,

There are two major issues facing the Prodi government at the moment: the budget for 2006/7, and the government's relations with Telecom Italia.

The budget decree was agreed in the Council of Ministers on Sunday and signed that same day by the President of the Republic. It contains cuts ('savings') and tax-increases amounting to €33 billion, which according to the Treasury will reduce the budget deficit to 2.8% of GNP compared to 4.8 for the year 2006. The final figure represents a victory for Romano Prodi and finance minister Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa against the left-wing of the governing coalition, who had requested a change of closer to €26bn with fewer cuts. The manouevre was made possible by an unexpectedly good tax take earlier in the year (good fortune also shared by France and Germany), and by a judicious selection of cuts and tax increases. The government has been able to keep its promise to reduce employer and employee taxes, but employers' associations are upset about changes to the severance pay fund, from which the government will take €5bn more over the next year.

Attention now shifts to the Parliament. The Prodi government has only a wafer-thin majority in the Senate. It is likely that the government will have to make the Finance law a vote of confidence. One senator, Sergio de Gregorio, elected as part of the left-wing coalition only to defect shortly after, has threatened not to vote for the government, which would leave the government with a majority of one, perilously close to relying one the life senators, whose support would probably be enough to pass the budget - but also enough to show the government incapable of a majority in one of the chambers, thereby constraining it to resign. The government will have to whip carefully in order to ensure not only that it retains its majority, but that members of the leftist parties do not introduce amendments which will grossly distort the bill.

The decision on the finance bill will be a welcome relief for Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who has had a torrid week explaining his government's policy towards Telecom Italia. Prodi's consigliere Angelo Rovati, the author of a botched plan to rescue Telecom Italia's mobile arm from foreign ownership, has taken the fall for what was seen by many in Europe's financial press as excessive government interferene in a private company. Nevertheless, Prodi must ensure that he is a more collegial Prime Minister than he was President of the European Commission, where he produced a secret draft for a constitutional treaty unseen by fellow Commissioners".

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