RAI reform: do not let this chance slip away

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The reform of the RAI’s governance has been on the politic agenda for a long time now. Nevertheless, throughout these years, the public debate has been focusing on several proposals which didn’t find, for different reasons, any concrete application. More recently the public debate intensified and the reform of the governance of the public concessionaire for radio-television broadcasting services appears not to be deferrable anymore. In light of the particular economic and political situation in Italy (Monti’s current government purpose, in theory, is to carry out a number of needed but unpopular reforms and there could be some room for changes regarding RAI) this reform should be seen as an opportunity that must be taken.
The improvement of the quality of the public radio and television public would certainly represent an improvement for a democracy: only if public opinion is properly informed it can play its correct role in the democratic mechanism. In every modern democracy where media have almost the information monopoly, this important function of spreading facts – or in other words of informing the public – is carried out by the public service. The latter should indeed represent the reference for all the other players operating in the radio-television market and providing information services. In Italy, on the contrary, for too long the public service has not performed its proper function and this is the reason why the reform of the public concessionaire is not deferrable anymore.
But from where should this reform begin? Should the new rules take into account other models? Certainly, a good starting point is to look at what happens in other legal systems (e.g. U.K.), while keeping in mind that the ultimate solution could not be the mere adoption of a foreign model. Every specific model is the result of cultural, social and economic specificities, which are not automatically reproducible and make it unique (and difficult to adapt and reproduce in a different reality).
Take the BBC, for instance, characterised by a high degree of independence and a high quality public service; the British network owes its success not only to the set of rules governing its organization and governance, but also to a different conception of the role of public service. In this regard, it suffices to have a look at the governance rules to find out that the government has sufficient powers to influence the management as well as the administration and operational choices. What safeguards the BBC’s independence and impartiality is a different cultural and social view of the public broadcaster and the public service mission. At the moment of the BBC’s conception and especially due to the leadership of John Reith, the BBC’s first Director General for who the BBC had not to be seen as the government spokesperson, the public subject gained a certain independence from the political power. This independence has continued to be maintained throughout the BBC’s life and has allowed the public broadcaster to provide a high quality broadcasting service, which always had the public interest as the main reference.
Ultimately, it is a different definition and conception of the public service, of its mission and role that has to be undertaken in order to effectively promote and guide RAI’s reform. Such a change cannot happen independently of a cultural rethink which in turn is very likely not to happen in the short-run, and should be even supported by extra-normative interventions.
Avoiding proclamations and swiftly acting, I think the most effective way to follow could be a step by step reform, starting by implementing the solutions already foreseen in the previous laws and never put into effects. I am referring, on the one hand, to the RAI privatisation foreseen in the so-called “Gasparri law” (Law No. 112 of 3 May 2004) and, on the other, to what it was laid down in the so-called “Maccanico law” (Law No. 249 of 31 July 1997).
The implementation of article 21 of the “Gasparri law” (which includes the privatization of the company) would have, in my point of view, several positive effects. First of all, given that this solution is already provided it would not represent something new and so it would be easily enforceable (it would face less political resistances); secondly, it would show a serious political intention to immediately reform the public company without deferring it sine die, as too many times happened throughout these years; thirdly, after the privatization the new board of directors would be appointed by the new shareholders (not by the Ministry of Economic Development and the “Parliamentary Commission for general policy and superintendence of radio-television services”) and so it could be more independent or, at least, accountable to other new subjects as well.
The other step – also relatively easy to undertake – is the implementation of what the Article 3, paragraph 9 of the “Maccanico law” laid down. The public radio-television services concessionaire should have submitted, to the AGCOM (The
Communications Regulatory Authority) a plan to transform one of its television channels into an advertising-free one. Such a reform will represent a real improvement of the public subject independence: operational and editorial independence. Furthermore, the quality of the public service would improve. Indeed, the public broadcaster, in providing its services, could more easily take into account the interests of the television fee payers. In my opinion, a fundamental change to improve the quality of the public service is to increase the importance of the opinions and the expectations of the television fee payers as it happens in the U.K.. Only in such a way, indeed, the public broadcaster could provide a high quality public service, properly discharging its public obligations and correctly playing its role within the society.
In conclusion, I think that even if these two steps might not be enough, they could represent a good starting point for the RAI reform. They will allow the RAI to operate more independently and efficiently, whilst awaiting for a deeper reform which, as I said before, must involve a cultural and social change. Prime Minister Monti and the so-called ”governo tecnico” (technocratic government) would be able – at least on paper- to trigger that more easily.

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