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MEDIA

Analysis: Why doesn’t Italian media look beyond the country’s borders?

Italy may be a fascinating place, but why isn't the country's media more interested in international stories and perspectives too? Silvia Marchetti explains.

A man reads Italian news headlines about domestic politics.
Where are the headlines on topics other than domestic politics? Photo: Filip Mishevski on Unsplash

Evening news in Italy is family time. After a day’s work people get together in front of the television to catch up with what’s going on – mainly in Italy.

It’s mostly all news on Italian politics, internal affairs, disputes within the government, a politician under investigation, or party propaganda and campaigns. 

I always put myself in the shoes of foregn residents who speak Italian, and feel bad for them. 

Talking to a few foreign friends in Rome, they confess that they find Italian news shows boring and provincial and are horrified that television channels barely talk about what is happening in the rest of the world.

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And yet Italians love television. According to national statistics agency Istat, 90% watch TV on a daily basis, while only 38% reads a newspaper at least once a week.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been focused on the Italian situation, which I perfectly understand given the death toll it has led to and the many challenges Italy has faced in the vaccination campaign.

But there was almost zero information on what the scenario was like in distant countries such as India, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Australia or India at the peak of the emergency, and how authorities were handling the crisis. Africa never made the news, except when desperate migrants landed on Italy’s southern coasts. 

The Italy-focused approach of Italian media predates the pandemic. Generally speaking there’s a poor offer of global news, international economics and geopolitics and this concerns both TV and print media.

Italy’s politicans and journalists become familiar faces on evening current affairs talk shows. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

I’d love to know how rural villages in deepest France or Spain are coping with Covid, or how New Zealand is tackling climate change, or the Maldives. How do people kill time in Iceland or Alaska, and how are African farmers living?

I’m yet to find one single channel or paper that fully looks outside the country. I’m not saying there should be an English-speaking Italian news program for foreigners living in the country – what a utopia! – but there should be more international news,at least.

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It would also be good to have a special television program with stories of interest to foreign residents and tourists, possibly with English subtitles.

The truth is, internal politics tends to dominate the Italian stage and this is reflected in the media. 

At dinner I often end up switching off the TV because I’m fed up of listening to ‘patchworks’ of colorful commentary and exaggerated reactions from politicians of different parties, who exploit the microphones to vent their anger at their rivals, or even at coalition allies. 

In Italian journalistic jargon these shows are quite fittingly described as ‘pastoni’ – aka, big platefuls of pasta with every possible (political) ingredient inside.

Global news usually comes at the end of TV news programs, I think mainly because producers know that audience shares tend to be higher at the start and then thin out, so they feed viewers with what’s appealing. 

According to studies, barely 15 percent of Italians seem to care about what’s happening in the rest of the world versus the 34 percent ‘very interested’ in internal politics. 

Half of the Italian population says it follows global news only a few times per year.

This is quite a pity because in our globalized, interconnected world I don’t think anyone can afford to be too ’local’. 

The worst Italian TV programs, mainly from an expat’s point of view, are the current affairs shows where newspaper editors of different political affiliations yell at each other, making a show of themselves. It’s like perverse little form of theatre.

To find a serious documentary that focuses a little more on non-Italian stuff you need to wait until midnight, and by that time most people who work have already gone to bed.

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Same goes for newspapers. Unless there’s a major global catastrophe or the US presidential elections, you just need to turn the pages of any paper to see how politics-centered the Italian media is.

The first ten pages are on internal affairs and political parties, government measures, budget issues and ruling allies bickering among themselves over key reforms. Written versions of ‘pastoni’ with statements are the norm. 

Then you’ll find some economic news, not too in-depth. And then the foreign affairs pages – usually no more than two.

Expats I know just refuse to buy Italian newspapers, and I can’t blame them. I have a hard time reading them too.

Italian media has always been a narcissistic reflection of politics; one strengthens and legitimizes the other. I guess it’s more or less the same in many other countries, but in Italy politics-centered information is stronger.

That’s mainly for two reasons. One: most Italians – not all – adore watching politicians and newspaper editors bicker. They take sides or make fun of them. It’s like a circus. 

Politicians speak, the media amplifies their messages, and citizens are the more or less involved, and influenced, spectators.

The second reason is that not only state TV but all major national and regional networks are in some way controlled or influenced by political parties, so each gets its visibility share depending on consensus.

Italy is a wonderful, multi-faceted country with so many things going on both at national and local level worth being covered, but not while neglecting the rest of the world. 

The Italian media should really start looking beyond its backyard. Many Italians I have spoken to would love to read or learn about non-domestic stories, to escape from their own everyday realities and to be able to relate to the outside world. 

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GENDER EQUALITY

Italian TV show investigated after outrage over ‘sexy shopping’ tutorial

Italian state broadcaster Rai has opened an investigation into why one of its shows on Tuesday offered female viewers advice on how to look sexy while shopping in the supermarket.

Italian TV show investigated after outrage over 'sexy shopping' tutorial
A show on Italian public television advised women on how to be seductive at the supermarket. Screenshot: Detto Fatto, Rai 2.
Viewers took to social media to express their anger and disbelief after the “Detto Fatto” show on Rai offered a tutorial on pushing a supermarket trolley while wearing high heels, instructed women on the most “sensual” way to pick up items dropped on the floor, and offered tips on seducing fellow shoppers.
 
“Is it 1970? No, 2020, almost 2021,” said one Twitter user.
 

Many pointed out the poor timing of the episode, aired just before the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th.

 
“If this is what public television thinks it should teach women, we are troubled as a society,” wrote another Italian Twitter user.
 
“As a woman I would not have participated in this farce. As a TV viewer I have mixed feelings: disgust for the show, shame for the broadcaster, anger because I pay the license fee,” commented another.
 
Many social media users from outside Italy questioned whether  the clip was real, or a parody.
The public broadcaster announced it would be investigating how and why the segment was allowed to be aired, after government ministers asked for an explanation from the channel’s management.
 
“How long must we continue talking about women in a fake, stereotypical way, with stiletto heels, sexy movements, always perfect, mermaids or witches?” asked Italy's agricultural minister Teresa Bellanova on Twitter.

 
“Obviously I’ve begun an investigation to ascertain responsibility and we are evaluating the future of this programme,” Rai’s CEO Fabrizio Salini said in a statement to the media on Wednesday
 
He said the segment had “nothing to do with the spirit of the public service and with the editorial line of Rai.”
 
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