Some Italian news reports are well crafted stories about migrants and criminality, with dramatic CSI-style crime and mystery soundtracks playing in the background.
Italian Broadcasting has its own peculiarities and is unlike any news format found around the World. To an outsider, the television programs look and, most importantly, sound baffling. The first thing one notices during a televised news broadcast, is the background music. The second is the high concentration of reviving anti-immigrant sentiments, explained by the massive upsurge in sea arrivals the country had to cope with in the last years.
Devolution of News Globally
Most television news broadcasts around the world at least attempt to appear impartial and objective. Whether it is Russia Today or CBSN, reporters calmly explain the events they are covering and try to convey the most relevant information (from the broadcaster’s point of view) to their viewers. Nevertheless, in the United States of America, with the invention of 24 hour news channels like CNN, news reports have become more dramatised to keep viewers interested and tuned into the channel. Fox News went a step further and now blatantly perpetuates the same narrative over and over again, no matter the event.
This has led to a split in news sources for Americans, along the Democrat and Republican ideological lines, fostering greater political and social divisions across the country. With a lack of coherent news narrative for the entire country, there is no commonly accepted set of norms and truths (facts) for the electorate to believe in. This has made it easy for a populist like Donald Trump to rise and turn this uncertainty into political capital. However, the US media are a far cry from the dramatisation of news experienced by Italians every day.
Populits on TV
Italy has its own populists, the most famous among them, Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi was Prime Minister for 9 years and is set to reclaim the position following the elections on March 4th of this year, Strasbourg permitting. He also owns the largest private media broadcasting company in Italy, Mediaset, which to this day is still controlled by his family. This allowed him to introduce his own narrative into the Italian media, often tailored to fit within sentiments, fears and desires of the general population. Once an ‘instinctive’ narrative takes roots even in just one media broadcaster, it is hard for all others (including the public service) to compete with it, without also adopting the same narrative. This is what happened in Italy.
Today, we look at the Italian media landscape to find several TV programs using similar populist narratives. Not only that, but in their bid to out-populise each other, the networks are gradually abandoning semblance of objectivity. Journalists ask provocative outworldly questions to try and increase the tension and drama. The TV programs are dominated by political talk shows and follow-up journalistic commentaries, more hysterical than football commentaries in most countries. Even some actual news reports are well crafted stories about migrants and criminality, with dramatic CSI-style crime and mystery soundtracks playing in the background to ensure the viewers interpret the reports just like the network wants them to.
After most news broadcasts, we switch to live-commentary of some of the most populist politicians Italy has to offer. They, of course, are most happy to comment and explain to the audience why and how Italy is about to be overrun by its perceived enemies. In a media environment like this, constructive politics based on facts and empirics is more difficult to achieve. The only question that surrounds the election now is, who will ‘out-populise’ whom in the end?
Democracy in danger?
The situation in Italy and other countries in Europe opens up a larger issue and begs the question if we do not need to update the rules governing liberal democracy. Separation of powers was invented by thinkers like Locke and Montesquieu to avoid the corruption of the fragile system of democracy. State and religion were separated for the very same reason. In the age of enlightenment, we did not have mass broadcasting, or the Internet. So perhaps, we should all reconsider the importance of separating this new often private power from our classic state powers, to ensure the survival of liberal democracy and prevent crises like those happened not even 100 years ago.