Saturday, July 14, 2007


Today' s FT has a piece about "Italy, the land that feminism forgot". It's deservedly critical of the role of women on Italian television:

If you are home before the 8pm news on Rai Uno, Italy’s main television station, you will discover it is preceded by a quiz show called L’Eredita (“The Inheritance”). In the middle of the programme, four ritzy women interrupt the competition to dance. “My jewels!” the male host exclaims. The dancing has no connection to the rest of the show; Rai Uno explains on its website that the “girls… with their presence and beauty, cheer up everyone watching, particularly men”.

Try squaring that with this laughably correct-but-wildly-implausible ambition from Rai's ethical code:

"Rai recognises the value of the human being, and entrusts itself with the task of not only guaranteeing but also developing our inviolable rights. Given this, the image of women should not correspond to reductive or instrumentalising stereotypes"

Unfortunately, the role of these wome - the veline - is well rooted in Italian television. Whilst the idea is pretty depressing, the derivation of the term is rather illuminating. During the fascist period, veline were flimsy carbon-copy instructions given to journalists, telling them which news items to puff up or ignore, the predecessors of today' s temniki. Sixty years later, the girls who brought news items to the Striscia's presenters became known by the same term. Sexism and fascism united in one red-white-and-green thread.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

How much information is complete information?

The Italian communications watch-dog Agcom has told Rai and commercial broadcasters to give more coverage of the campaign to call a referendum on the current electoral law. The instruction is binding, though any penalty could easily be evaded; but what possible (non-normative) justification can Agcom give for this? Let's say Agcom finds out that 5% of time of news bulletins has covered the referendum campaign. Is that a lot or a little? It presumably depends on how important one thinks the referendum campaign is. That seems to me to be a journalistic decision, not a regulatory one. Agcom should stop giving judgements of this type.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

We want more of the evidence we don't understand

Quomedia reports that politicians in the parliamentary committee that supervises Rai are asking for equal-time limits on political appearances even outside of election periods. I'm not sure why politicians need to have these limits. The most obvious interpretation is that they' re worried that Rai will be captured by an interfering government. But, as I' ve shown in a recent paper, existing data on politicians' screen-time demonstrates that even the (rapacious, invasive, bullying) Berlusconi government wasn't able to upset fairly stable patterns in the amount of screen-time the parties are featured in the news. Perhaps politicians will only take this finding seriously is sanctions kick in when it' s not observed. And then perhaps they should concentrate on more pressing problems.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Things I would like to find out

For any country,
  1. what's the average wage for a journalist?
  2. what's the average wage for a journalist working in the public service broadcaster?
  3. is there a trade magazine in journalism or communications?
  4. is there some magazine or annual agenda which shows the editors of the various television news desks? (Like Benn's Media in the UK, except better; more like Agenda del Giornalista in Italy)
  5. have there been any surveys of journalists?
  6. are the names of television news editors ever mentioned in the non-specialist press? Would someone interested in politics know them?
  7. are the names of television executives followed by party labels in brackets? Would someone interested in politics know these affiliations?
  8. How does one become a journalist for the public service broadcaster?
  9. Where did the first PSB journalists come from?
  10. Were the first PSB news broadcasts produced in-house, or did they rely on wire-services (AP, Reuters, TT, etc.,)?
Boring to you, life-blood for me.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Consequence of Sarko

Quick link to this thoughtful piece on the possibility and desirability of an independent media in Sarkozy's France - thoughtful primarily for recognising that the desirable level of media independence is not always the maximum level.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

CBC President parody video taken down by House of Commons

[Via Boing-Boing] The Canadian House of Commons asked YouTube to take down a parody video of Robert Rabinovitch's testimony to the House. Questions:
  • why can't Canadian citizens get the rights to the video of their own representatives?
  • what on earth did Rabinovitch say that might have been worth parodying?
[Update: the answer to the second question is: nothing.]

Monday, May 28, 2007

Description of SVT's governance

Establishment of public broadcasters by charters has its upsides and its downsides.

Upsides: it maintains the independence of the broadcaster.

Downsides: I have to read through Sweden's 1996 Television and Radio Law, the 2007 Licence Agreement, and the Supplement to the Licence Agreement, before finding that none of them contain anything on the governance of SVT.

Thankfully, this document contains information on SVT's governance, including: how the independent foundation members are appointed; how they further appoint the executive board members, and their tenure.

Polls on CBC's independence

No sooner do I complete my June paper (a 15,000 word research design for the thesis), than I find a new data point on perceptions of political independence by the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

The first poll is by Ipsos-Reid, and asks

Thinking specifically about the CBC...which of the following two statements is closer to your own opinion?

StatementMay. 04Aug. 02
The Prime Minister’s power to appoint the CBC President and Board of Directors
gives the government too much influence over the nature and content of programs broadcast on the CBC
The CBC is independent and it doesn’t matter who appoints the Board of Directors and President5250
Don't know/no opinion35

The poll is poorly worded, since the options are not mutually exhaustive. One might think CBC is independent, but it still matters who appoints the Board of Directors. (It reminds me of the get-out-the-vote campaign in West Wing, Season 4, where will changes one kid's sign from "It doesn't matter who you vote for, make sure you vote", to "No matter who you vote for, make sure you vote").

A similar question was asked in 1999 by a different polling group (Compass); at 35%, the percentage replying "independent" was much lower.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Greek PSB governance

I've been hunting for an English language description of the governance of the Greek PSB for a while now. I've found part of it:

The government introduced the broadcasting Law 230/1975 which abolished EIRT and, in its place, created Hellenic Radio and Television (ERT). ERT was a limited company whose only shareholder was the Greek state. It is characteristic that when the Bill was discussed in Parliament no party questioned either the state monopoly or the dominating role of the state over ERT (Alivisatos, 1986). The Law ensured tight governmental control of ERT and concentrated most effective power in the hands of the Director-General. The Director-General and the two assistant Directors-Generals were directly appointed (and dismissed) by the government. The Board of Governors, which had no real powers, was to be appointed following the decision of the Council of Ministers. The Director-General, who has autocratic power over ERT, is himself/herself at the absolute mercy of the government since his/her appointment (and dismissal) is a matter of 'political will' of the government. Clearly television was to be used neither as a 'public watchdog' nor for the development of a pluralist dialogue. It was, on the contrary, to be used to support the government of the day and its policies.


The Directors-General and directors of ERT were appointed and dismissed with great frequency, mainly because they ‘failed’ to cover adequately government’s policies. Between 1981 and 1989, for instance, there were thirteen chairmen and Directors-General and sixteen news-directors with an average term in office of about eight months.

This is from Georgia Chondroleou, "Policy networks in comparative perspective: media policy networks in Britain and Greece", presented at the ECPR 2001 conference.

Bibliography on broadcasting in Slovakia

Bibliography on broadcasting in Slovenia

These are, in large part, publicly available. God bless George Soros-funded organisations...

  • Gaube, Ales, "Slovenia: a Government Mouthpiece?", Transitions Online, 26th September 2005; deals with a reform of RTV Slovenia following a 2005 referendum; the referendum substitute a German-style corporatist board for a parliamentary appointed board.
  • Gaubes, Ales, "Slovenian Media: the Politics of Ownership", Transitions Online, 20th March 2006
  • Goegole, Hannes, "A Question of Transparency - Public Broadcasting in Transition - Editorial Independence in Romanian and Slovenian Public Channels", DeScripto, no. 2 (2004), pp. 16 - 17
  • Hrvatin, Sandra, Serving the State or the Public: The Outlook for Public Service Broadcasting in Slovenia (Peace Institute, Ljubljana, 2002) ; excellent summary, including relevant information on the appointment of other European PSBs. Tells the tale of how the Parliament came to indirectly appoint the Director-General, contrary to the law.
  • Hrvatin, Sandra, Media Policy in Slovenia in the 1990s (Peace Institute, Ljubljana, 2001)
  • Matkovic, Damir and Brajovic, Sasa et al, Public service broadcasting in transition - Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia (Peace Institute, Ljubljana, 2002); notes that the journalistic Code and ombudsman promised in 2000 (and described by Hrvatin) still hasn't been appointed.
  • Volcic, Zala, "'The Machine That Creates Slovenians': The Role of Slovenian Public Broadcasting in Re-Affirming and Re-inventing the Slovenian National Identity", National Identities, Vol. 7, No. 3, 287 - 308 (DOI, gated); contains a choice quote from a senior anchor admitting that politicians influence editorial choices.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The governance of public broadcasters

Most of the time, I look at public service broadcasters (PSBs) as exquisitely political creatures.

Most of the time, I think that's the right perspective.

Recently, however, I've been looking at PSBs as corporations, with all the associated paraphernalia of corporate governance. The results have been interesting.

PSBs can be divided into two types: dual board, or single-board.

German PSBs have dual boards: a massive, supervisory board (aufsichtsrat), composed of upwards of twenty members representing civil society, and a much smaller executive board, led by a generalintendant. Something like France Télévisions, by contrast, has a single board of five members, with a President/CEO.

Until now, I've viewed the institutional choice between single- or dual-board structures as a political one: where politicians choose a dual-board structure, they do so because they believe this structure provides a buffer against political pressure, and because they want to insulate the PSB from such pressure.

What if these choices aren't made with conscious objectives in mind? What if, instead, politicians just follow examples drawn from other fields?

In corporate governance generally, we can draw a line between three groups (Hopt, Klaus J., "The German Two-Tier Board", in Hopt, et al, Comparative Corporate Governance (Oxford, OUP):
  • single board countries: UK, USA, Ireland, former British colonies, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece
  • dual-board countries: Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Scandinavia;
  • mixed countries: Eastern Europe, France, Belgium
If the corporate governance of PSBs reflects national practice rather than political views about the desirability of independence, then we should expect single-board countries to have single-board PSBs, dual-board countries to have dual-board PSBs, and mixed countries to plump for either. What's the evidence like? Of the twenty-nine PSBs for which I have access to the legislation, here's the breakdown:
  • single board PSBs (11): USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Spain [post-reform], Portugal, Greece(?), France, Bulgaria
  • dual-board PSBs (18): Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain [pre-reform], Italy, UK, Ireland,

The fit is not bad. Three dual-board countries don't fit: Italy, UK and Ireland; no single-board countries don't fit. There are some countries whose systems of corporate governance I don't know enough about to decide whether their placement is accurate (Israel, Japan, Chile).

Some tentative conclusions:
  • PSB governance may be strongly influenced by more general corporate practice;
  • those countries which could have opted for either system chose dual boards;
  • the choice of governance for the BBC and RTÉ was contrary to corporate practice;
  • It nevertheless seems to have been a good choice, with both broadcasters enjoying a better reputation than TVNZ, ABC, or (especially) the CPB in the USA, at least in this author's judgement;
Therefore, the dual-board model may be preferable for public broadcasters, squaring the circle of accountability and independence.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Rai round-up

On Saturday, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, Finance Minister, writes to Rai saying that he no longer has confidence in Angelo Maria Petroni, the Finance Ministry's representative on the Rai board. Petroni was nominated by Padoa-Schioppa's right-wing predecessor. Petroni claims that the move is purely political, and has no legal foundation. Petroni is partly right: the move has no basis in the Gasparri law, which currently governs the broadcaster. However, according to Repubblica,
"il ministro dell'Economia può revocare la fiducia ad un proprio rappresentante rifacendosi al principio più generale del "contrarius actus". Ovvero, così come autonomamente il fiduciario è stato nominato, altrettanto autonomamente può essere revocato se non esiste una normativa specifica".

The decision will be referred to a shareholders' meeting in June.

Yesterday, Mediaset, along with other European partners, buys a majority stake in Dutch production company Endemol. Mediaset will, through Endemol, now supply programmes to its competitor, Rai, in prime-time. An overwhelming majority (93%) of respondents in a Repubblica insta-poll believe that Mediaset will use their control to screw Rai over.

Today, the centre-right members of the Rai board, upset about Petroni, threaten to vote no-confidence in the director-general Claudio Cappon. As far as I can see, this procedure is not found in the legislation or statuto sociale of Rai.

Conclusion? In both cases, the centre-left and centre-right are making up the law as they go along.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Public attitudes towards government intervention in the media

"People have clear views about how their health should be provided for, the economy should be managed, and the environment be protected, but attitudes towards government intervention in the communications field appear fitful and unfocused. Perhaps it is more difficult for people to have well-formulated views on the organization and control of institutions and technologies which are both remote and rapidly changing, or perhaps the role of government in this field is more obscure to the public—and thus, as the data record suggests, of less interest to social scientists"

Peter Golding and Leo van Snippenburg, in The Scope of Government

Daily Mail loses libel case

When I speak to Italian friends about the differences between Rai and the BBC, I often say that there are simply not so many newspaper articles about the BBC as there are about Rai. When newspapers do publish things on the BBC, they try (usually) to select issues of genuine public interest and (usually) try to be truthful.

That's why I was pleased to see that my friend Thea Rogers has won her libel case against the Daily Mail for a story they ran on her. The claims made were of no public interest, nor more importantly were they true. The Mail has been forced to print an apology which, sadly, is not yet on-line.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why governments don't manage public broadcasters

"I want a situation without censorship, because I do not want to be responsible for whatever they may say" - Napoleon I, letter to M. Fouché, Jun 1, 1805.

Source: Baker, D. (ed)., Political Quotations (Gale: Detroit), 70

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Journalists' partisan leanings in Sweden & SVT

I'm currently waiting on the data from Journalist '05, a regular (every five years) survey of Swedish journalists, which are as I write being turned into book form by Prof. Kent Asp and colleagues. In the meantime, here are some results from the 2000 survey:

Public Journalists SVT Journalists
Left 15 31 33
Social Democrats 32 27 23
Centre 4 3 2
People's Party 5 14 17
Moderates 25 10 6
Greens 6 10 14
Christian Democrats 13 5 5

Journalists in general are more left-libertarian than the general population, being twice as likely to support the Left party, and almost twice as likely to support the Green party. Journalists with public broadcaster SVT are not markedly more left-wing than journalists in general: although they are more likely to support the Left, they are less likely to support the Social Democrats. In being three-times more likely to support the Folkpartei and more than twice as likely to support the Greens as the general population, they seem to favour the kind of well-meaning, intellectual borderline left positions taken on in the UK by the Liberal Democrats.

Lieutenant Chiti

The 'Bonsai' column in Repubblica has, over the past few months, been painting a wonderful picture of Vannino Chiti - Minister in charge of relationships with Parliament - as a type of electoral Lieutenant Columbo. From Wikipedia:

Columbo's signature technique was to exit the scene of an interview, invariably stopping in the doorway or returning a moment later to ask "just one more thing" of a suspect. The "one more thing" always brought to light the key inconsistency.
In like fashion, Chiti has been interviewing representatives from all the parties represented in Parliament, ever willing to come back and ask them just one more question about their ideal electoral reform outcome.

Unlike Columbo, Chiti has not been able to come up with a particularly screen-worthy denouement. Chiti was heard yesterday by the Parliamentary Commission on Constitutional Affairs. Here's the account of the meeting, again from Repubblica:

"Chiti explains that the process starts with the proportional [system]. Without preferences. But, as sought by the referendum promoters, without multiple candidacies. The minister spoke of different hypotheses regarding the threshold, and the effort to introduce a threshold of 5% - starting in 2016. The majoritarian bonus remains in Chiti's scheme, associated with a reduction in the number of parliamentarians... elected in smaller regional constituencies or single member districts on a proportional basis. The bonus will be assigned to the coalition or list which wins over 40% of seats. It will decrease in size, permitting a maximum of 54% of seats to the winders. The bonus will be assigned only if the Senate and Camera have the same majority"
This explanation leaves so many questions unanswered as to be of very little use. Chiti claims to have a text ready to present to Parliament, should they wish it; but it must perforce be a very skeletal one.

Those interested in reading Chiti's presentation to the Committee can find it on the Chamber of Deputies website [shortly].

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Public attitudes towards Rai

In my thesis, I claimed that "there is no available polling evidence on whether Italians believe Rai to be independent of the government". That's not quite right. There's no public polling data, but I've hit the jackpot through trawling through the catalogue of the Servizio Bibliotecario Nazionale: I've got Rai's own internal data.

Granted, it's from 1986. But still, it's tremendously useful. I don't know why the Fondazione Gramsci and the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi have copies, but I'm very glad they do.

They key data - on spontaneous and prompted responses to judgements on Rai - are as one might expect:

  • Rai is "an instrument in the hands of the leading class" [unprompted response]: 9.3%, a marked increase over the past ten years
  • Rai is "an organisation controlled by a few political parties" [prompted category]: 41.9%, five points down from ten years before;
  • Rai is "an organisation of the government" [prompted category]: 24.6%, five points down from ten years before;
  • Rai is "an organisation controlled by all the political parties": 20.4%, two and a half points up from 1979, or before the birth of RaiTre
  • Rai is "an organisation outside of politics": 4.1%, a marginal increase over ten years previously

So, Italian citizens judged [quite correctly in my view], that Rai was a political organisation; that it was controlled by an agreement between some parties, and not per se by the government or the entire political class. Let's take "outside of politics" as being equivalent to "independent from politics". If that's the case, then the 4.1% of Italians who judge Rai to be politically independent is much less than the 22% of Britons who judge the BBC to be politically independent.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

More on the independence of French journalists

Even better data from this 2003 CSA / Marianne poll on l'image des journalistes: 23% of French people think the media are independent of "political power", Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, Jean-Pierre Pernaud, and Claire Chazal are cited as particularly independent. Cross-tabs are included!

Journalistic independence in France

Via a long chain of googling too tedious to repeat, I find a wonderful poll on public attitudes towards French journalists. My interest was drawn to the question on public perceptions of journalistic independence. Two questions are asked, one on independence from political parties, and one on independence from economic concerns. Here's the time-series on independence from political parties. Only one third of French people believe journalists are independent.

Rappel enquête SOFRES

Déc 2001

nov 1993

déc 1994

déc 1995

déc 1996

déc 1997

déc 1998

déc 1999

déc 2000

From political parties and the powerful

Yes, they're independent

No, they're not independent

Wouldn't say




























Unfortunately, the question wasn't asked for different channels, so there's no direct way of telling whether journalists from France Televisions are judged less independent, say, than journalists from TF1. (One could run cross-tabs on main channel watched and perceptions of independence, but the link would be tenuous).

In general, the news isn't good for France Televisions: whilst in 1989, 43% of respondents cited either France 2 or France 3 as their most trusted source of television information, compared to 33% who said the same of TF1, the gap has now swung in TF1's favour, with 41% citing it as their most trusted source, compared to the joint total of 35% for France 2 and 3, with the latter gaining impressively.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Costs of Italian democracy

From Today's Repubblica (Vladimiro Polchi, "I costi dello stato", p. 9):

"How much does a parliamentarian earn? The calculation is not easy given the number of different headings to add. Senators and deputie take home euro 14,000 per month net of taxes. To the exemption of 5,486 euros (reduced by 10% with the 2006 budget) one adds: 4,003 euros "for the reimbursement of costs incurred staying in Rome", and 4,190 euros (4,687 for senators) for "reimbursement of costs incurred in the relationship between elected and electors". But that's not all. The MP need not worry about his travels, enjoying a "ticket for free movement on tollways, trains, naval, and air travel within the country". If s/he needs to go abroad, there are annuals expenses of up to 3,100 euros. The telephone bill is not a prolem: for his chatting, the deputy enjoys an annual sum of 3,098 euros; 4,150 for senators. Other reimbursements are made for taxis (3,233 every three months)."

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The 'bozza Chiti' and the effective threshold

From comes information on the size of constituencies in the new electoral system proposed in the 'bozza Chiti'. They will be 'sub-provinciale', at most, 'provinciale'.

Let's assume conservatively that the constituencies will be equal to the number of provinces.

Let's also assume, as a simplifying measure, that the constituencies will all be given the same number of members of parliament to elect.

So, dividing the number of parliamentarians in the bozza Chiti - 400 - by 103, we get 3.88 MPs to be elected per constituency.

The effective threshold per constituency is therefore: 75% / (3.88 + 1) = 15.36%.

Now, the effective threshold at the constituency level is not a good estimate of the effective threshold at national level. Rein Taagepeera, in a 2002 Electoral Studies article, suggests that the nationwide threshold is equal to:

  • effective constituency threshold / (square root of number of districts), or
  • 15.36 / 1o3 ^ 0.5 = 15.36 / 10.15 = 1.51%
So, if anything, the proposed system is going to present a less formidable barrier to parties than the previous system, which had a legal threshold of 2% (plus largest coalition loser). Admittedly, these are back of the envelope calculations, and the distribution of seats between constituencies may (significantly) affect the results. But, if a (more) reductive electoral system is a good thing for Italy, then we'd better hope that the constituencies are more numerous than the one hundred and three provinces.

Rai approves new service contract

Rai today agreed a new service contract with the Communications Minister Paolo Gentiloni. According to this write-up, the contract was extensively modified after parliamentary hearing. The one big word to take away from the process (or two words, for Ritchie-Bartlett watchers)? Unfunded mandate:
Il problema e' che secondo un conteggio 'interno' alla Rai, queste modifiche al contratto potrebbero arrivare a costare "oltre 100 milioni di euro all'anno", senza contare che alcune di queste clausole sarebbero di difficile applicazione per come sono state concepite in Vigilanza

[The problem, according to an 'internal' count, is that these modifications to the contract may cost over euro 100 million per year. Moreover, some of the amendments may be difficult to implement in the fashion required by the committee].

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Agreement on electoral reform in Italy?

Repubblica and the Corriere both report that the centre-left majority has reached agreement on electoral reform. The reform will replace the current law with a system similar to that used for regional elections. The text therefore is close to joint position of the centre-right, which augurs well for its chances of quick passage. By including constitutional reforms in the reform package, however, the centre-left ups the stakes.

On the basis of the coverage in Repubblica, we can say the following:

  • The reform is a type of bonus-adjusted proportional representation system

  • Candidates will be elected in constituencies (at least greater than 26)

  • There will be a national bonus in both the Senate and Camera on a national level

The precise details of the bonus, and details on the threshold, are unclear. Repubblica claims that "la soglia deve essere tanto minore quanto maggiore e` il premio di maggioranza" [the threshold will be smaller the greater the majority premium]. I don't understand why these two aspects of the system need to be linked. In any event, if the size of the constituencies is substantially reduced, the effective threshold based on constituency size may be more significant than the legal threshold. Again, though, details of the constituencies are not clear.

Additional constitutional reforms are included in the agreement:

  • Reduction from 630 to 400 deputies, and from 315 to 200 senators
  • end of perfect bicameralism
  • formal recognition of the Prime Minister's right to nominate and fire ministers
  • adoption of constructive vote of no-confidence

The agreement comes a day after the two main parties - DS and Margherita - agreed on a Spanish style electoral system as the only possible model. Members of the Udeur were apparently opposed to such a reform. According to a recent poll, the UDC's vote-share hovers around 2%, making it vulnerable to the higher effective thresholds of small constituencies in the Spanish style.

  • There are two stimuli for the reform:
  • the wish to avoid the possibility of conflicting majorities in the Camera and Senate, as almost happened last year; and
  • the wish to avoid a referendum promoted by Giovanni Guzzetta and Minister of Defence Arturo Parisi, which, in giving the majority premium to the largest single list (instead of the largest coalition of lists), would accelerate the formation of large single forces on left and right.

The reform text seems to be the smallest step capable of avoiding both of these possibilities. Given the effective veto power of all members of the coalition, who have vastly different electoral profiles, this is not surprising.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The best 'Dear Joergen' letter ever

Jeppe alerted me to a brewing storm in the Danish media. Former director of Danmarks Radio (DR) Christian Nissen has, in his new book about his time with the broadcaster, reproduced an email from Culture Minister Brian Mikkelsen complaining about DR's coverage of the Iraq war, and threatening to private DR instead of already announced plans to privatise the second broadcaster TV2. The text of the letter, and a cleaning up machine translation, follow:

Blot til orientering saa blev DR's daekning af regeringen og speciet Irak krigen taget op paa ministermoedet i dag foerst under morgenmaden af mange ministre og dernaest under det formelle moede. Der er en meget stor utilfreshed med DR's daekning som er meget ensidig - de har specielt set sig sure paa et par kvindelige vaerter og Ole Sippel (some mange naevnte som ekstrem i sine udtryk mod koalitionen). Det kom derhen til at udenrigministeren mente at vi ikke burde privatisere TV-2 som var fair i daekningen, men snarere DR. Netopdet forhold et det staerkende borgerlige argument mod privatiseringen af TV-2. Mange borgerlige mener at vi burde privatisere DR, some er anti regeringen, mens de ikke forstaar at vi privatiserer TV-2 som er positiv over for regeringen. Jeg ved godt at det er svaert for dig - i morgen var jeg saa i skudlinien for det var pludselig mit ansvar - men du skal have besked om regeringens holding. Jeg naevnte henvendt til statsministeren, at jeg loebende havde en fortrolig dialog med dig om tingenes tilstand. Og at jeg havde indtryk af at bestyrelsen og nissen tog det meget seiroest, men problemet laa hos Lisbeth Knudsen

If only to [inform you] then DR's covering of the government and specially the Iraq war was gone up on the meeting of ministers today only under the breakfast by many ministers and next during the formal meeting.

There is a very large utilfreshed with DR's covering that is very onesided - they have especially seen themselves cross with a couple of female hosts and Ole Sippel (some many mentioned as an extreme in their expressions against the coalition).

That came there to that the [Foreign Minister] thought that we ought not to privatise Tv that was fair in [its coverage], but rather DR.

The Netopd conditions an it starling-a little [bourgeoi] sargument against the privatisation of Tv.

Many [members of the bourgeois party] think that we ought to privatise DR, some is anti- the government, while they do not understand that we privatise Tv that is positive face to face with the government.

I know well that it's difficult for you - tomorrow I was in the line of fire for it suddenly my responsibility was - but you have to have message about the government's holding.

I mentioned turned for the prime minister that I had a confidential dialogue with you about the state of things.

And that I had impressions of that the management and Nissen took it very seriously, but the problem lay with Lisbeth Knudsen [director of news]

More coverage from the Copenhagen Post.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Reading list on Rai

I haven't blogged in some time. In part, that's because I've been in the Biblioteca Nazionale (sede di Firenze) reading books about Rai. A tentative bibliography of essential reads is below. There are some I haven't included, some of which I've cited in my M.Phil thesis, some of which I am certainly ignorant of :)

Abis, M.; Bossi, V. & Carullo, A. (1999), Lo spettatore attivo: 10anni di Osservatorio Rai e Mediaset sulla televisione, Mursia, Milano.

Balassone, S. & Guglielmi, A. (1995), Senza rete. Politica e televisione nell'Italia che cambia, Rizzoli, Milano.

Balassone, S. & Guglielmi, A. (1993), La brutta addormentata, Theoria, Roma.

Biscardi, A. (1978), L'impero di vetro : la prima grande indagine sulla RAI-TV, SEI, Torino.

Cardini, F. & Riccio, G. (1995), Il cavallo impazzito. Una stagione di polemiche alla Rai, Giunti, Firenze.

Cesareo, G. (1970), Anatomia del potere televisivo, F. Angeli, Milano.

Chiarenza, F. (2002), Il cavallo morente. Storia della Rai, Franco Angeli.

Curzi, A. (1996), Il compagno scomodo, Mondadori, Milano.

Curzi, A. & Mineo, C. (1994), Giu le mani dalla Tv, Sperling and Kuper, Milano.

Deaglio, E. (1995), Besame mucho. Diario di un anno abbastanza crudele, Feltrinelli, Milano.

Ferretti, C.; Broccoli, U. & Scaramucci, B. (1997), Mamma Rai, Le Monnier, Firenze.

Gisotti, R. (2006), Dalla tv dei professori alla tv deficiente. La Rai della seconda Repubblica, Nutrimenti.

Jacobelli, J. (1996), Cento no alla Tv, Laterza, Bari.

Jacobelli, J. (1992), Per una nuova riforma della Rai, Laterza, Roma.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Twin fallacies of Italian institutional reform

Recently, the debate about electoral reform in Italy has begun to move quite quickly. A number of parties - including the pivotal UDC - seem to favour the German mixed-member system. Rocco Buttiglione, in yesterday's Repubblica, claimed that such an electoral system would leave Italy with four parties - radical left, centre-left, centre, and respectable right.

Buttiglione's comment - and support for the German system in general - demonstrate one of two fallacies of institutional reform commonly seen in Italy.

The fallacy of composition is where one takes two institutional features, which are believed to have certain independent effects, and where one seeks to reach a half-way point between these two effects. Instead, the two institutional features, when put together, interact and cause unforeseen outcomes.

An example of this is the combination of single member districts (SMDs) and a proportional tier in the Italian electoral reform of 1993. Giovanni Sartori criticised the choice as leading to a vogue for 'bastard hybrids'. If the intent was to reduce the effective number of parties (ENP) through introducing SMDs, the reform failed; the ENP increased after 1993.

The fallacy of abstraction is where one takes a particular institutional artefact, which is believed to have a particular effect within a wider context; and replicates it without that wider context.

If Italy adopted the German electoral system because it has historically produced stable and alternating governments, legislators will have succumbed to the fallacy of abstraction. The stability and alternation of German government was due first to the gradual instauration of the electoral system, and also to the cleavage structure. The more complex cleavage structure in Italy - including clerical/anti-clerical and communist/socialist left cleavages - will most likely make any reductive effect of the electoral system much less likely.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The deeper malaise that bedevils the Italian electoral system

Today's FT publishes a letter written by David Hine, Alan Renwick and me, on the issue of the Italian electoral system, recently the object of much debate:

Sir, Alexander Stille's analysis of Italy's current troubles focuses on the electoral reform rushed in by Silvio Berlusconi ahead of last spring's election ("Prodi and the problem of Italy's electoral system", February 23). He calls it proportional representation. It isn't. In the lower house it gives a working majority to the coalition with the largest national vote share. In the Senate, there are also bonuses, but they are allocated regionally and the outcome is a lottery.

The problem with the recent reform is the same as with its 1993 predecessor. In trying to create majoritarian coalitions, it creates an irresistible incentive to cram in the most improbable range of parties, giving everyone a post-election veto: a fatal combination of apparent bipolarity built on a sub-structure of extreme party fragmentation.

Recommending the abolition of PR will not fix anything until that deeper problem is addressed. After the 1993 reform, the small parties won their seats in the 75 per cent of contests that were allocated under first-past-the-post principles, not in those allocated by PR. It happened because the larger parties felt forced to widen the coalition through stand-down agreements. A similar incentive operated under the 2005 "return to PR", albeit by a different route.

Interestingly, the electoral system that small parties seem most afraid of is the French second ballot, perhaps modified to prevent second-ballot stand-downs. The run-off, as with the French presidency, would then be just between the two leading candidates from the first ballot. Nothing else has done the trick, and there are few options left.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Croatia's HRT to get new boss...sometime

Legal uncertainty about procedure for replacing PSB boss. So much for the quality of the draftsmanship of media legislation, the object of much comment from EU 'experts'. (Of course, the idea of eliminating interpretative uncertainty is chimeric).

Saturday, February 24, 2007

State funding of Italian newspapers

Following a tip [thanks Costanza], I found a wonderful transcript of an episode of Report on the state funding of Italian newspapers. The state spends 667 million euros a year to subsidize newspapers; the intention behind the subsidies was originally to help struggling 'newspapers of ideas'. Instead, with a 1987 law permitting two deputies to certify that such-and-such a newspaper is the in-house newspaper for a political movement, the subsidies blossomed. The transcript does a wonderful review of some of the less credible newspapers:

What, 'L’opinione'?

You've never heard of it?

No, if it's a newspaper it doesn't arrive here

INTERVIEW [to EDITOR of L'Opinione]
How many copies do you sell?

Our circulation is... limited, let's say. We're at about three, four thousand copies.

INTERVIEWER [off-screen]
Three, four thousand copies, and you receive two million euro

Monday, February 19, 2007

The election will not be televised [not by Duhamel, that is]

Interesting story last week about Alain Duhamel, respected French television journalist who was sacked for revealing who he would vote for in the upcoming presidential election. Here's the story, as recounted by someone more familiar with the case than I [thanks Ben!]:

Duhamel writes editorials for newspaper, he is a journalist and a political
interviewer on RTL (the French radio with the largest audience) and on
France 2.

The basic story is: last November this journalist is invited to talk at a
small conference by some students (young members of Bayrou’s party the UDF)
at Sciences Po in Paris (the equivalent of the LSE for France some would
say). In the course of his speech he negligently mentions that he intends to
vote for Bayrou in the next presidential election. He claims not to have
known that the conference was being videotaped. At the beginning of
February, the students put the video on their website and on, a few blogs mention it, but no one seems to pay attention
to it. Yesterday morning, the video had only been seen 265 times. That’s
when Guy Birenbaum puts the video on his blog (he is a very complex figure,
he has a PhD in political science with a thesis on the Front National and is
officially a political science professor at a French University although he
doesn’t teach anymore, he created his own publishing company where he
publishes mainly essays that would not be accepted by other companies
because of their polemical content, he writes editorials for different
medias and polemical books, and has a blog with a wide audience). Soon the
information that Duhamel votes for Bayrou appears on the website of all the
big medias (le Figaro, le Monde, Libération…) and arguing that Duhamel now
lacks the independence needed to do his job he is suspended, first from
France 2 and then from RTL. He was actually scheduled to interview Bayrou on
France 2 yesterday evening. The whole thing started a big buzz about the
independence of journalists... and about the impact of
internet compared to traditional media.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

State funding of Italian parties

Recently, I've been looking at the system of state funding of Italian political parties. I'm interested in the subject because of the incentives it may create to form new parliamentary groups (since they qualify for funding), and the way funding systems interact with the new electoral system.

The history of state funding is pretty shabby. In 1993, an abrogative referendum repealed parts of the law on party funding, banning direct subventions, but allowing compensation for electoral expenses. These electoral expenses gradually grew; new laws were passed in 1999 and 2002, lowering the qualification threshold from 4% of vote-share to 1% of vote share (or electing at least one candidate), with funds divided according to the parties' vote-shares.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Observational equivalence

One of the measures of PSB independence I'm looking at is the turn-over rate of PSB directors-general, and specifically whether they often change within six months of a government change. The idea is that, if directors-general are appointed only for two years, or if they know they'll be fired with a government change, they can't be independent of politics.

So, if turnover is low,that means the broadcaster is independent, doesn't it? Not necessarily. Here's Mark Pollack explaining why the problem of observational equivalence messes things up:
Studies of agency autonomy that rely on the frequency of sanctioning are therefore likely to run into the methodological problem of observational equivalence, namely that the absence of sanctions is consistent with both the obedient servant and the runaway bureaucracy scenarios, each of which predicts, albeit for different reasons, the rarity of sanctions

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Weekly round-up: BBC, RTVE, RAI

Three items this week, in descending order of importance, increasing order of triviality:
  1. The cost of a BBC licence fee was set for the next six years. The fee will increase 3% for the next two years, and 2% for the four following years. The figures roughly follow projections for CPI, but there is no inflation link. The BBC is annoyed, because they think the settlement is below RPI (which is below industry-specific inflation for broadcasting, which may be subject to Baumol's disease), and because they thought they would get extra for spearheading the switch to digital terrestrial. They do (a £200m side-payment), but the DCMS is sure that there are cost-savings to be made. [Historical data on licence fee]
  2. RTVE revealed its new executive line-up. According to Formula TV, Director-General Javier Pons has kept Fran Llorente and Pablo Carrasco as directors of News & Current Affairs and Content respectively, but Carrasco loses control over Programming, which goes to Carlos Fernandez. The RTVE union in Madrid opposes against Carrasco's nomination, claiming he favours external production far too much.
  3. RAI councillors complain when people criticise them. The five right-wing members of the Rai board - Urbani, Petroni, Bianchi Clerici, Malgieri, and Staderini - denounced the "campaign to delegitimate their action" - roughly, criticism that they acted in a partial manner damaging to the company when they appointed Alfredo Meocci as Director-General in violation of rules of conflict of interest. One interesting tid-bit: the CdA had wanted to give Siniscalco [Minister of Finance at the time, and thus sole shareholder] a list of names; Siniscalco refused and said he only wanted one. Good on 'im

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Dyke didn't jump but was pushed

Minutes of the BBC Governors' meeting of the 28th and 29th January reveal that Greg Dyke was sacked by the Board of Governors, rather than resigning. As Torin Douglas wrote,
For those who have read Greg Dyke's book Inside Story, there are few surprises in the minutes of the BBC governors' meetings.
Still, nice to have it confirmed officially.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Government interference

I've belatedly found a wonderful survey from May last year on trust in the media. As usual, the relevant cross-tabs are buried behind several links. The juiciest information for my purposes comes with the agree/disagree responses to the statement, "The government interferes too much in the media in our country". The question isn't ideal for gauging the actual level of interference - one may think that there's a high level of government interference, but there should be more; or that there's a low level of interference, but there should be less still - but nonetheless, the results are useful.

(% Agree, government interferes too much):
  1. Nigeria: 75%
  2. South Korea: 71%
  3. Brazil: 64%
  4. Indonesia: 59%
  5. United Kingdom: 58%
  6. India: 56%
  7. USA: 52%
  8. Egypt: 49%
  9. Russia: 49%
  10. Germany: 32%
Surprisingly low positions for Russia and Egypt perhaps impaired by the low availability of alternatives. Where alternatives are available, as in South Korea (highest usage of internet as a news source worldwide), resentment at government interference seems to grow - although public broadcaster KBS is still the most trusted media brand, strangely enough.

For the record, 51% of Italians believe the government's influence on public broadcaster Rai to be excessive. Maybe Italians are equally bad judges of the richness of their media ecology as Russians and Egyptians seem to be.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rai to become a public foundation

Minister for Communications Paolo Gentiloni today unveiled a blueprint for the future of Italian public service broadcaster Rai. Rai is to become a public foundation which shall nominate the executives of the company and decide on the value of the licence fee in conjunction with the government. Public service and commercial broadcasting will be entrusted to distinct divisions; these two, and a third network division, will be overseen by the foundation.
The creation of the foundation is welcome. A number of positive aspects:
  • political appointees will now have an oversight role, not an executive one. The Foundation shall appoint the consiglio di amministrazione (managing board), which, if the name means anything, will have executive responsibility. This is a great improvement over the current system, where the consiglio di amministrazione is nominated by the Parliament, but shares executive power (and cedes executive initiative) with the Director-General.
  • foundation members' time in office will allow for strategic thinking. Foundation members will be appointed for six year terms; one-third of the membership may be replaced every two years. The six year term should allow for members to plan ahead without being shackled by a biennial appointments circus. Partial renewal should ensure that the Foundation's collective intelligence isn't destroyed after each term.
  • division between public- and advertising-financed content will help Rai's image. At the moment, the quality of Rai's programming - of Italian television in general - is low. Consequently, Rai is often hostage to licence-fee strikes, as irate consumers renege on their licence fees in protest at low quality. If the (popular, sometimes entertaining) lowest-denominator crap moves to the advertising financed channel, then it should reduce the grounds for licence fee strikes. There is a risk that public service content will rapidly become a cultural ghetto - but some parts of Rai - i.e., Rai 3 - have become quite good at winning ratings with public service content.
At the same time, there are some unclear aspects:
  • the appointment mechanism has yet to be decided. There are two options: the Spanish and the German. In the first model, six members are nominated by the regions, and appointed by the Parliament with a two-thirds majority; the President is nominated by the Presidents of the two Chambers, and appointed by the Parliament with a two-thirds majority. In the German model, the board is larger, and is drawn from civil society groups.
  • the financing mechanism is unclear. According to the guidelines, the value of the licence fee will be set every three years by the Government on the basis of a proposal by the Foundation, which will reflect the cost of producing Rai's public service content. It would be nice to see some mention of automatic inflation-uprating there; I don't put it past future right-wing governments to starve Rai of funds by freezing the value of the licence fee in real and nominal terms.
If you ask me for my recommendations, then:
  • appointments should not be made by civil society groups. Although it sounds desirable to free such an exquisitely political body from political appointments entirely, that's to ignore the fact that much of Italian civil society is also exquisitely political. Who can imagine a nominee from CGIL (the leftist trade union) acting as anything other than a left-wing activist? This model - the German - failed pretty badly when exported to Hungary; I have no reason to suspect that Italian civil society is markedly more independent from parties than Hungarian civil society.
  • the licence fee settlement should be made for six years, and uprated in line with inflation: if the contract between the Ministry and Rai for public service programming is to last six years, why shouldn't the licence fee? This would aid planning, and put the issue beyond the range of any single legislature.