Cineteca nazionale

The reform of Public Service Broadcasting in Italy: A Mission That Is Not Impossible


The argument put forward here is that public broadcasting in Italy, particularly over the last ten years, has been characterized by a lack of clear aims, not to mention a lack of a common mission. For too long the debate has focussed on the excessive influence of political parties and on problems relating to the governance and economic structure of the RAI. This has prevented any sustained, in-depth examination of its actual role in this digital, multi-channel age. Indeed, there has hardly been any discussion of the various social and technological changes that threaten both its identity and its viability. It is therefore necessary to return to the role that the public service plays in society, a unique and essential function which justifies public investment. This article argues that such a role is linked to its dual mission: boosting the entire audiovisual production system (and, more generally, the culture and creative industries) in a vigorous, innovative way, and to quote Thaler and Sunstein, providing a nudge with a delicate but steady hand, in favour of social inclusion and the improvement of society.


On the eve of the renewal of the convention between the RAI broadcasting company and the Italian government (which expires in May 2016), the survival of public service media in Europe is seriously under threat: funding is shrinking and public institutions are suffering a radical loss of trust. This has been accompanied by an enormous growth in the number of channels and platforms available, the increasingly fierce competition for ‘premium’ content, and the transformation and disintermediation of the traditional value chain with growing importance given to new gatekeepers (aggregators, over-the-top content etc.). This is not to mention the elephantine, and largely inefficient, organization of most public broadcasting companies as well as the fact that there is a general desertion on the part of young users in favour of new forms of consumption [1].

This effect is amplified in Italy, where in recent years the RAI has been slow to react effectively to changes within society. And the main reason for this lack of response is to be found in the weaknesses of its mission, that is, its inability to define clearly the obligations and objectives of a public broadcasting company. Indeed, for many years there has been much confusion, or to put it bluntly, a dense fog, surrounding its public mission [2]. The issue regarding its links to political parties, viewed as the principal evil of state broadcasting in Italy, has unfortunately worked in favour of clouding the real issue in any discussion about the absence of clarity, transparency and efficiency regarding this public concern. A lack of regulations and goals has allowed a whole series of governments to work in a distinctly non-transparent way, thinking more about individual advantage rather than the common good. Instead of spending so much time discussing how things are done (governance and funding), perhaps we should have thought more about what needs doing (vision and planning).

While a significant number of people think that the RAI should be privatized, it is clear that the only way ahead is to defend – and strengthen – its public function. And I believe that this is precisely where we should start: with its mission. Above all, this means asking ourselves what sense there is today, in this digital age, for the state to finance a public broadcasting service, and whether this important share of the media market [3] needs to be defended and supported in Italy and the rest of the world. In the discussion that follows, I will attempt to argue that it is still right to do so,. because a public broadcasting service has a fundamental, unique dual mission: to enhance and stimulate the creative sector and, to quote Thaler and Sunstein (2008), nudge people to become better citizens.

The value for the economy

We shall start by discussing the strong, determined drive first. The RAI is one of the leading public organizations in Italy and the most important in the cultural and creative sector with a consolidated turnover (in 2014) of €2.5 billion including public funding from the license fee amounting to €1.59 billion. To get an idea of what this figure signifies, we can compare it to the overall budget of MIBACT (the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism) which stood at €1.595 billion in 2014, and with that of FUS (the Single Fund for Performances, i.e., the total sum through which the MIBACT finances cultural activities for the whole of Italy) which was approximately €406 million in 2014 with a similar amount forecast for 2015.

The principal role of the RAI is to offer a quality broadcasting schedule, the specific characteristics of which are defined in its remit. These are stipulated in its convention with the state [4] and then set down out in further detail in the various service contracts that are reviewed every five years [5]. The public broadcaster’s very identity is based on the specificity of its mission and the schedule is its product. Since public services were created in Europe, however, it has been evident that the task of editing and of distributing a public programming schedule does not necessarily coincide with responsibility for other activities, such as production. In fact, one role of a public broadcasting company might be to create a production sector that is external to, and therefore independent of, the company itself [6].

Channel 4 was created for this very reason in Britain in 1982. An attempt to give a similar boost to broadcasting in Italy was made in 1998 by the then Deputy Minister Walter Veltroni. In Italy, however, this was not done by way of a new channel, but through legislation. Law 122 [7] took on board European directives and provided for investment and programming quotas for Italian and European films and drama series. To give just one example concerning television drama [8], following Law 122 RAI investments in new productions rose from €93 million in 1997 to 180 million in 2001 and 287 million in 2006. There was also a considerable knock-on effect throughout the creative sector in Italy [9], proof of how public policy can make a marked difference even over a relatively brief period of time. Regarding the present, overall investment in drama made by mainstream broadcasters in 2015 came to €314 million (194 from the RAI and 120 from the private Mediaset group) [10].

These are important results, but they are not enough to consolidate the audiovisual industry in Italy. Moreover, the dearth of economic resources is accompanied by an attitude to ownership rights on the part of broadcasters that is distinctly authoritarian and aggressive, also due in part to the limited demand of the domestic market. Producers are thus denied ownership of most rights, and therefore of the chance to convert a decent portfolio into an asset which can be exchanged on the international market. The result is that Italian companies cannot grow or be competitive, while Italian productions do not take off abroad (with serious consequences for the economy, and for Italy’s reputation). What is more, the problems in the Italian creative industry make it ill prepared to tackle the challenges posed by the digital revolution and by a system in which a ‘positive’ narrative is the prime means for creating the viewers and the citizens of the future.

In fact the lack of a stable creative industry not only impacts badly on those who work in the sector; it also has strong repercussions throughout the creative production process and, above all, on our ability to exploit tangible and non-tangible cultural assets. And so our national cultural heritage misses out on yet another opportunity. Not only does it have difficulty keeping afloat owing to a lack of legal protection, but it also cannot rely on an adequate means of representation and marketing either at home or abroad. Nor can it become a driver of growth in response to those calls for valorisation projects that only now are beginning to be endorsed by public policy. The little – the precious little – Italian culture that is broadcast comes courtesy of American or British companies, whether it be a US television series about Rome or a British documentary about Pompeii. This clearly shows how the company’s choices regarding strategy have an impact on the Italian cultural system and the economy as a whole. It is not (only) a case, therefore, of encouraging literacy and social inclusion, as we will see later, but (also) of activating a virtuous productive sequence that, in turn, has an enormous influence on society as a whole.

Our overriding concern must regard the issue of encouraging the audiovisual sector in Italy. And for many people, particularly those involved in broadcasting, this is at the core of the RAI’s mission. For example, Marco Follini, President of the Associazione Produttori Televisivi (the Television Producers Association) and Riccardo Tozzi, President of ANICA (the National Association of Film, Audiovisual and Multimedia Industries), argue that “business pluralism” is a development of “political pluralism” with the RAI’s mission more in tune with creative sector interests [11]. This may be true for the whole sector, but perhaps it is even more so for public broadcasting. Moves have been made to this effect [12], but the input is not strong and determined enough. In many ways, therefore, it is hoped that the renewal of the convention will mean that the RAI is more willing to make an important impact on the industry, both by increasing its investment quotas and by managing its portfolio of rights in a different way. It will be up to the new management to decide how this is carried out.

This cannot be accomplished, however, by only considering the quantitative issue. Above all, working for the common good also means financing innovation in products and systems [13]. The specific nature of the RAI implies that great care is required when considering more risky and innovative programmes, providing them with investment and a place in the schedule. These are programmes that might not otherwise find access to the market, or encounter problems due to the higher risks involved. We should also remember that creating new audiences (with a more innovative broadcasting service) is a long and arduous process, and that experimentation will run up against obstacles [14]. This calls for some patience, a virtue that befits those who have public responsibilities, but which is perhaps less appreciated by the market.

Therefore, while it is important that the RAI has a more significant influence in the audiovisual sector over the next few years, it should not be forgotten that any such influence must have a positive effect on its production both quantatively and qualitatively. . Consequently, while it is good to encourage the production sector, it is even better for it to be encouraged by the public service so that innovative and quality products can be created – and created in a fair, transparent way. In particular, it is time that the system for outsourcing contracts at the RAI was more inclusive, merit-based and carried out according to well-defined assessable codes of conduct.

Furthermore, the issue of innovation regards not just the product but the whole process from initial idea to production, and includes technological support, distribution, storage and so on [15]. Innovation is fundamental in all its various forms, and is itself proof of the various risks that the RAI takes upon itself on behalf of the rest of the industry (thus settling any outstanding accounts with its commercial rivals). In this respect, Mariana Mazzucato (2014) is right in saying that the public sector acts as both trigger and stimulus for private initiative, rousing the animal spirit of the market (producers, technology businesses, new start-ups etc.) instead of ‘crowding it out’, that is, creating unfair competition and occupying areas of the market that could potentially be held in private hands.

Undoubtedly, the finances that the RAI can call upon are limited and this complicates the question of risk investment. However, if the RAI retains its flagship role in public broadcasting, the government will have give adequate support in order for it to carry out its mandate. Moreover, as professional associations of producers and authors suggest, if all broadcasters actually respected the quotas in place at present, then the total amount of money invested in the creative industry would already be much higher. Doing this might, at the very least, be a good start.

The value to the public

As discussed in the previous section, the strengthening of the creativity market  is a necessary target, but this alone is not enough to justify the existence of a public service. With a whole range of channels on offer, why should the public support just one (or one specific group), financed with taxpayers’ money and potentially competing with commercial TV by removing advertising revenue from the market? If this was merely a case of encouraging the audiovisual sector, mightn’t it be enough to fix stricter quotas for commercial channels? And give them public funding to fulfil scheduling obligations, while keeping an eye on quality too?

What is more, one long-standing question remains unanswered: if an increase in the number of options (i.e. channels) automatically provides the user with an ample choice for choosing the best (a form of external pluralism), then why do we have a public broadcaster? What is its legitimacy (to use a term that echoes through every debate on the subject throughout Europe)? Moreover, why should someone who only wants to watch commercial channels have to pay for something that they are not using? If what we are talking about here is an increase in the choices at hand, then those who call for an immediate privatization of the RAI have a point. In fact, a public service can only be justified when the service that it offers is unique; it must have a specific identity and produce something for the public good. In this case, even those who do not use it derive social benefit as it impacts positively on development and social integration, and thus increases collective wellbeing. The public service thus has – and this is the point – a unique mandate. It must come up with a programme schedule (or various schedules) that can increase our knowledge and capabilities [16], and improve welfare and social justice.

To do this, various instruments that are both direct (information) and indirect (values and macro concepts) are created or selected. These aid our understanding of social change, of the world around us, and the incredibly wide range of choices that we have at our disposition. They are, in fact, instruments of freedom. Whoever chooses which programmes are to be broadcast and sets out a public service schedule is a “choice architect” (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008), comparable, say, to those who make decisions about the food that is available in a school canteen. The difference in this case is that the canteen is one of hundreds on offer, and the users have a remote control in their hands. This radically changes the strategies that come into play.

Therefore, to take Thaler and Sunstein’s metaphor further, we cannot simply focus on offering nutritious vegetables if the rival channel fills its screens with fries and ketchup. Apart from the (direct and indirect) instruments on offer, the public service also has to have a reasonable appeal; otherwise it cannot fulfil its mandate [17]. While that appeal is not a part of its mandate, it is an instrument. And its mission is to give that gentle nudge towards social inclusion and the improvement of society. All this does not mean, however, that fries with ketchup and organic carrots must all be found in the same group of channels, with viewers just left to decide what they want (a form of internal pluralism). If there is no editorial policy and no responsibility on the part of the public service to manage the wide range of choices and to help the user understand their scope and potential outcome, then it is difficult to understand just what the distinctive nature of the RAI is compared to its commercial rivals.

In this light, I believe that the phrase coined by the European Broadcasting Union – “return on society” (RoS [18]) – sums up the benefits that a public service has for the very people for which it caters. This involves going beyond the original “educational” role that public broadcasting services in Europe took on when they were created. From these unidirectional beginnings, the emphasis is now on dialogue, on interaction, and on what individuals can do with the encounter. It is this interaction that a public television service should encourage and guide. The idea of a paternalistic RAI controlling our decisions, or at least attempting to do so by giving us the occasional nudge, might well cause alarm. But then again, for what, and for whose benefit, should we have a public service? It must make choices and draw up a programming schedule, i.e. do things that the commercial broadcaster would not do.

To clarify this point, let’s give an example. In an election, a high turnout is a symbol of democracy, of citizens participating to a democratic process. In this scenario, one of the duties of a public service might well be to encourage people to go out and vote and various means could be adopted for this purpose. In line with Thaler & Sunstein’s (p. 57) theory on conformity effects, the most obvious strategy would be to work on the idea that there is something positive about voting. Commercial channels, however, might highlight the risks of not voting, or stress the negative issues (how many people didn’t bother voting in the previous elections, how many probably won’t vote in this one, how democracy is at risk and so on). They might take this particular angle because upsetting news is, by its very nature, more appealing (it “sells” more). In contrast, it would be the public channels that highlight civic duty and the positive aspects of voting.

This example is useful as it demonstrates what a minefield we have before us. The idea of a public service that gives out a message or that uses information to encourage certain behaviour might well give rise to apprehension. It seems demagogical, even authoritarian. But as history and sociological studies have shown, the alternative, the idea that information should be neutral and completely objective, is deceptive. There is no such thing as completely neutral information, just as there can never be a government that is completely hands-off [19]. In fact, whatever media is involved, we only need to bear in mind that most news programmes dramatize events in order to attract more readers, listeners or viewers. This increases collective anxiety and general feelings of impotence in the face of change (if everything is going so badly and there’s no way of avoiding it, then what’s the point in even trying to do something positive?). To quote Thaler & Sunstein (p.72) “[…] for all their virtues, markets often give companies a strong incentive to cater to (and profit from) human frailties, rather than to try to eradicate them or to minimize their effects.” Indeed, we can identify a natural inclination on the part of commercial media to profit from human frailty, whereas a public service should be called upon to try to eradicate it, or at least to attenuate its effects. Of course, commercial television is also much more than this. In Europe, as in the rest of the world, commercial TV has clearly been extremely important in providing an impetus for modernization. However, this has occurred with no specific public mandate, without any limitations on behaviour, and without any of the guarantees that come from being a public service.

Let’s now consider another illustration of this by looking at an interesting article by the columnist Aldo Grasso [20]. Grasso quotes from an essay by Jerome Bourdon [21] in which the author, intent on highlighting the breakdown of the public television model, claims that it makes no contribution towards creating a “European culture”. On the contrary, this provides us with a good illustration of what we mean here by a common good: only a public broadcaster can take on this role, again providing its users with a “nudge” towards the idea of a common European market and culture [22]. In recent years public broadcasters in Europe have talked very little about this, each one apparently isolated from its neighbours, each deeply rooted its own, very specific national context. This does not mean, however, that we cannot make this a starting point. Perhaps it is a chance for Italy to re-present a European project, involving all public services in a common programming, planning the very idea of Europe together. While private broadcasters have no incentive to do this, public broadcasters do. Public television has the mandate to create better citizens, “offering those who want it, the chance to be more aware citizens […], people who want greater freedom and greater control of their own choices” [23].

The word “nudge”, therefore, renders very well the delicacy that must be applied when dealing with the public. But it does not mean that broadcaster’s voice should not be loud and clear. Indeed, it requires renewed authority and a full taking on of responsibilities. For this reason this gentle approach occasionally needs to be a little blunt, even disturbing, so that the message is effective. Our idea is for a public television that also acts as  a Stolperstein [24]. Something that sets the political agenda each day, with inspiring new ideas, issues and proposals for the common good.

The whole process must always take place in a relationship of sharing and trust with the viewer. Indeed, within a framework where two-way communication enables corrective action and change.

The issue here is not about having a multi-channel RAI; this is something that is now common to all media, public and private alike. The issue is not even about “engagement”, that is, involving the public starting with a TV programme (some news or a song etc.) and creating a relationship through and around the information/narrative ( a strategic way to secure viewer loyalty, but above all, to position the user within a network of participation and consumption of interrelated products). The real issue today thus regards participation and sharing. That is, a public project (of values and services) which is no longer unidirectional, but is mediated and enriched by continuous input and the exchange of new ideas and suggestions. If it is right, as argued above, for the RAI to produce “public” ideas and values through which it creates social capital, at the same time it is indispensible that these ideas and values are constantly negotiable with the country as a whole. This is what can, and must, happen, opening up the RAI to interaction with transparency, wherever creative thought is privileged. This means with schools, universities, research centres, the third sector, active citizenship groups and so on [25].

The Reithian model of education with the user being taught is transformed in line with what is functional for the 21st century. Communication and exchange between institutions and the individual is open and dynamic and not a one-way process. However, a great mistake made in recent years has been to conflate the idea of “participatory governance” with that of creating consultative or decision-making bodies open to various special interest groups. This again risks trapping the country’s creative energies in positions at best dedicated to lobbying for one thing or another. For a public broadcasting service (and not only), participation has a much higher aim and that is cooperation. The service works with the entire “active” civil society for the common good. To this end, I imagine there being – and this is also something to consider in the forthcoming debate on the RAI [26] – a body within the company, along the lines of the former ‘Verifica qualitativa programmi trasmessi’ (Evaluation of Programmes Broadcast) study group [27]. This would be a space for debate and continuous interaction with all those centres where new thought is produced. These ideas, and the most valid suggestions, would be presented to the RAI board of directors, the management and general administration in order to influence, question and enrich the discussion regarding its mission (which is periodically updated according to its service agreement) as well as its strategic and business planning. This solid bridge with the outside world – with the third sector, with schools, universities and other institutions – would also allow a strong bond to be forged with what is “local”. This Italy comprises thousands of municipalities and thousands of communities that the regional programmes of the RAI cannot fully represent, while the version offered by local (private) channels is only partial, not public [28]. In this way the RAI retains its authority, but reduces the risk of becoming authoritarian by questioning its own core values. In so doing, it becomes part of a network for the exchange and production of ideas. Thanks to that nudge from the public service, the end result, as in all true educational processes, is a new idea of citizenship, with citizens provided with the means to question the RAI itself.

For all this to occur it is essential that people are equipped for digital citizenship. This is one of the objectives in the RAI mission that can no longer be put off. Important progress has been made in recent years, but the road ahead is long, particularly in a country marked by a significant digital divide, and one which not only affects the older generation [29]. This involves providing the means and the technology to access the web, and above all, acquainting the user with multi-platform services and encouraging active interaction with each of the platforms. This not only increases access, but also interaction with, and the production of, new content on the part of the so-called ‘prosumer’ (the producer/consumer). The debate within Europe on this matter also provides us with various suggestions; we need only mention here the idea of public services 2.0 [30], of a “public service navigator” [31] or a European digital platform of public services [32]. The creation of a new system and a new digital citizenship precisely coincides with the creation of a new market which Mazzucato sees as an entrepreneurial state that is both the catalyst and the motor for new investments from businesses (“creating the vision, the mission and the plan” [33]).

We have identified some core values of the public mission: literacy, digital citizenship, greater participation in public affairs, a care for the common good [34], establishing a common European culture etc. Undoubtedly there are others. In the same way, much consideration should be given to the best means for communicating with one’s own public, such as showing people potential ways to improve their lives, putting greater emphasis on national schemes that have positive effects and so on. The new governance of the RAI has to face these things in the coming months. The clock is already ticking: the date for the renewal of the convention looms large.


“The important thing for government is not to do things which individuals are doing already, and to do them a little better or a little worse; but to do those things which at present are not done at all.” Keynes’ words [35] provide an appropriate epigraph for the upcoming agreement between the RAI and the government. A public service needs to operate in a transparent well-defined way that is totally different from that of commercial television. It is a public television that is neither outside the market nor fully part of it; it occupies various spaces that are complementary and interconnected. In fact, although the advertising revenue that the RAI receives might reduce the potential earnings of commercial television, the latter may well profit from the fact that in accomplishing its public mission, it is public television that shoulders the risks of investing in innovation [36] and new markets, and encouraging new ideas. This provides Italian products with credibility throughout the media sector, increasing creativity and its overall educative worth.

As Mazzucato (p. xiii) writes, “There is no country that has ever grown without major investments in key areas, such as education, research and human capital formation.” Discussing the mission of the RAI helps us to remember that the public money the RAI spends is a good investment. And investment in a “new RAI” offers significant medium- and long-term returns for Italy, which are directly calculable in terms of social capital and economic development. Indeed, the calculability of this public value is of great interest and a valid topic for economists to investigate: one of the challenges that the new governance at the RAI will face is the need to distinguish indicators capable of evaluating the investment that the government places in the public service. Not by chance, this issue is high on the agenda in the boardrooms of the principal public services in Europe, as well as at the European Broadcasting Union.

Overall, we must create the means to test, and periodically evaluate how effectively the public service is producing something of value, and in so doing, appraise targets and management performance. These are thorny but unavoidable issues. And like all the issues that we have discussed, they cannot be put off much longer. With May just around the corner, it is time for some serious discussion about what the RAI means. The debate has started.

Essential references

100autori, AGPCI, ANAC, ANICA, APT, ART, DOC/IT, PMI Cinema e Audiovisivo, Cambia canali, Perché un nuovo servizio pubblico

Articolo 21 – Fondazione Giuseppe Di Vittorio, Gruppo di lavoro per il rinnovo della Convenzione Stato – Rai (2013), Una nuova carta d’identità per la Rai, 9 maggio

Barca F. and Marzulli A. (2007) L’industria della produzione di fiction, per Apt, Camera di Commercio di Roma e Regione Lazio.

Barca F., ed. (2007) Le Tv invisibili. Storia ed economia del settore televisivo locale in Italia, Rai-Eri

Brevini B. (2015) The struggle for PSB 2.0: An Assessment in International Journal of Digital Television, volume 6, number 2, Intellect Ltd Editorial

Burri, M. (2015), Contemplating a “Public Service Navigator”: In Search of New (and Better) Functioning Public Service Media, International Journal of Communication 9, p. 1341–1359.

DCMS (2015), BBC Charter Review, Public Consultation, October 2015

De Blasio E., Sorice M., ed. (2014) Il servizio pubblico. Pluralismo, democrazia, media, Focus in Media, Fondazione per la Sussidiarietà, Milano

EBU Knowledge Exchange 2014, Reaching Young Audiences: The Fragmented Media Landscape as an Opportunity for Public Service Media.

EBU (2014) Vision2020

Follini M. and Tozzi R. (2014) Il momento per la riforma della Rai è adesso, Il Sole XXIV Ore, 12/11/2014

Gandy O.H. (2015) Toward a Political Economy of Framing: Putting Inequality on the Public Policy Agenda, The Political Economy of Communication, 3(2),

Giacomelli A. (2015) Cultura e innovazione, ecco il servizio pubblico, in Corriere della Sera 4 July 2015, file:///C:/Users/Roma/Downloads/Giacomelli%20Corsera%204lug15.pdf

Grasso A. (2015) Tv e servizio pubblico, le buone intenzioni non possono bastare, in Corriere della Sera 29 June 2015,

Iem (2011) Lo stato di salute della fiction italiana e le dinamiche a livello europeo, III Rapporto Fiction

Infocivica (2014) Per una responsabilità pubblica nelle comunicazioni dell’era digitale, novembre

Klontzas M. (2015) Public Service Objectives: Contestability and Renegotiation in International Journal of Digital Television, volume 6, number 2, Intellect Ltd Editorial

Lilley A. (2013) Counting What Counts: What big data can do for the cultural sector

Mazzucato M. (2014) Lo stato innovatore, Editori Laterza (published in English as The Entrepreneurial State (2015), Anthem Press)

Mazzucato M. (2015) The Future of the BBC: the BBC as Market Shaper and Creator, LSE Media Policy Project Blog

Orf (2014) Public value report 2013-2014

Pallacorda (2015), Linee guida per una riforma della Rai. Mission, governance e finanziamento per un nuovo servizio pubblico,

Rai (2015) Relazioni e bilanci al 31 dicembre 2014

Sen A. (2010), Equality of what?, in MacMurrin, Sterling M., The Tanner lectures on human values 4 (2nd ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 195–220 Tambini D. (2015) Five Theses on Public Media and Digitization: From a 56-Country Study, International Journal of Communication 9, pp. 1400–1424

Thaler R.H. and Sunstein C.R. (2008) Nudge, Yale University Press)


[1] For further details on the threats and challenges now facing public services in Europe, see EBU 2014, Tambini 2015 and Klontzas 2015. Also worth mentioning is the lively discussion that followed the publication of the green paper by the British Department of Culture, the Media and Sport (DCSM 2015) regarding the renewal of the Royal Charter of the BBC. The present article purposely avoids discussing this – and the large quantity of material it generated (among which, Mazzucato 2015) – as for many years (and for many boards of directors) one of the excuses for not seriously questioning the importance of the RAI’s mission has been that the RAI is unique and cannot be compared with the classic British model. In public discussions and in private documents, British “good practice” has always been treated somewhat scornfully and as an excuse to condemn this whole line of reasoning as “inapplicable” to Italy. For many years in fact, behind all the political talk, the widespread conviction has been that the RAI is unchanging and unchangeable, and that often the only function of change (in governance) is to conceal the fact that there is a lack of change (in its mission). On the contrary, I believe that it is simply a question of political will, a will that has avoided any radical reform of the RAI for decades, thus protecting the status quo.

[2] “Pressured by the competition of commercial TV and with its independence undercut by the uncontrolled interference of political parties, the public television service has gradually distorted its mission to the extent that in the last ten years it has lost it own raison d’être” (Art.21, p. 1).

[3] There is an extremely large number of public media groups at an international level, while the new opportunities provided by digital broadcasting has increased what is on offer. According to EBU data (2014) in 2013 there were 275 national and international TV channels, over 180 radio broadcasters, hundreds of regional and local services and over 400 on-demand services.

[4] The convention was stipulated in 1994 (see: and it expires in May 2016.

[5] According to the provisions of the reform law passed by the Italian Senate on 22nd December 2015. Up until then, the service agreement was renewed every three years. However, to date this agreement has never been a real opportunity for discussing and defining the mission of the RAI, and even lacks sufficient provision for the company to be monitored, evaluated or corrective measures implemented. It is telling that the last agreement dates back to 2010-2012, and the following agreement has been subject to discussions that have been going on for over three years in an exhausting bureaucratic back-and-forth between RAI headquarters, the Ministry for Development and AGCOM (the Authority for Communications Guarantees in the sector) about who has responsibility for what.

[6] Although the definition of “independent” not only refers to those bodies that are external to the broadcaster, but also those which do not depend on it economically, that is, those with a high level of “alternative” income. According to Decree 177 of 31st July 2005, “‘independent producers’” are “communications operators in Europe that carry out audiovisual production work and are not controlled by or linked to broadcasters, including analogue broadcasters, or, that for a three-year period, do not dedicate at least 90% of their production to any single broadcaster, analogue included.” What is lacking in the Italian implementation of European legislation is any provision regarding the relationship between independence and the ownership of a portfolio of rights.

[7] Law 122 provides that “as a rule, national television authorities should dedicate at least 10% of broadcasting time to European works created by independent producers, excluding those times dedicated to news programmes, sports events, TV games, advertising, teletext services, chat shows and telesales. For these same works, the public service authority sets aside a minimum quota of 20% for independent producers” Law of 30th April 1998, no.122, article 2 (;122). At present this issue is regulated by the Legislative Decree of 31st July 2005, no.177 Testo Unico dei Servizi Media e Audiovisivi – TUSMAR (Consolidated Text Regarding Media and Audiovisual Services), and in particular art. 44 on the requirements for investment and programming schedules regarding the suppliers of audiovisual media services. See also the AGCOM Resolution 30/11/CSP of 3rd February 2011.

[8] Data on the RAI’s investments in original films are difficult to trace. However, the 2014 RAI Cinema budget states: “As regards the breakdown according to product type, investments made by RAI Cinema in the acquisition of films drama series and cartoons comes to €182.3 million, while investments in film production comes to €60.6 million and investments in documentaries come to €2 million.”

[9] Barca F. and Marzulli A., 2007

[10] In recent years the investments of the RAI and of Mediaset in original drama series have been: 536 million in 2008, 360 million in 2009, 390 million in 2010, 347 million in 2011, 285 million in 2012, 290 million in 2013 (falling far below European standards: in the same year French broadcasters invested €464 million while the British invested €669 million) and 322 million in 2014. It is estimated that compared to 2008, there has been a 60% drop in investment (data from APT – the Television Producers Association).

[11] Follini and Tozzi, 2014. Behind them is the whole, once highly unified industry, see 100autori, AGPCI, ANAC, ANICA, APT, ART, DOC/IT, PMI Cinema e Audiovisivo, 2015. For the views of the 100autori, see in particular

[12] Fifteen per cent of the RAI’s net revenue (licenses and advertising) – and 10% of that of private groups (advertising and subscriptions) – must be invested in European audiovisual works by independent producers (TUSMAR). Of this, 20% must be invested in audiovisual works made in Italy.

[13] “What is needed is a RAI which innovates, that is, experiments new languages, new formats and new applications” (Giacomelli, 2015).

[14] By way of example, if two out of ten drama series produced by the RAI are particularly innovative and one of them has a fair amount of success, then we have a result that is more than satisfactory.

[15] See also

[16] Sen, 2010.

[17] What is ‘attractive’ is also directly linked to changing social and generational differences. The comments made by the Pallacorda group (2015) are particularly germane: “Television is losing its function of social cohesion whereby different groups (background, ages) would watch the same programmes. This fragmentation in favour of diversified objectives is natural for private, free or pay television; it costs less, finds favour with advertisers and reflects social trends. However, it is deleterious to a public service which exists in order to bring about social cohesion, to strengthen national identity and to appreciate differences.”

[18] EBU, 2014: “The term Return on Society relates to the various positive effects that PSM deliver to a specific society, group and individual: the idea that PSM is much more than a bunch of broadcasters delivering content to a wide audience measured in terms of market share and reach. It relates to our raison d’être, i.e. to the positive impact of content and services on: – Societies – by offering a platform for information and democratic debate, reflecting the diversity of national and cultural identities, supporting social cohesion, providing a guarantee for plurality, producing and promoting European and local cultural productions, and preserving cultural heritage – Individuals – by supporting citizenship (information, representation, participation) – Cultural organizations, other public institutions, the media eco-system, the economy, and employment. When we connect to the networked society we create more opportunities to deliver public value – to empower citizens, to enable communities to deal with social issues, to bridge the digital divide, and liaise with other parts of society that create public value. Developing the concept of RoS offers a strong instrument for measuring success and defining priorities in our programmes and services. It allows us to focus more on fundamental issues, relating to the lives of citizens and the future of humankind. It can also strengthen the legitimacy of our activities. In an increasingly competitive environment, we have to be more distinctive, deliver greater value for money, and perform more effectively.”

[19] “[I]t is pointless to ask government simply to stand aside […]. Choice architects, whether private or public, must do something.” (Thaler & Sunstein, p. 227). Moreover, if we ask government to intervene strongly in a certain sector (for example, ordering a reduction of the number of TV aerials in towns by substituting them with a single aerial for the whole apartment block), it is illogical for the public television service also not to give out information about the usefulness – both aesthetic and technological – of the single aerial in order to convince the home owners to adopt the policy.

[20] Grasso, 2015.

[21] Jerome Bourdon (2015) Il servizio pubblico. Storia culturale delle televisioni in Europa, Vita e Pensiero in Grasso, 2015.

[22] Whereas the emphasis was originally on “Italian cohesion”. See De Blasio and Sorice, 2014, for a general overview of public services in Europe and a comparative analysis of their various “missions”.

[23] Giacomelli, (2015).

[24] Stumbling blocks, small, cobblestone-sized that the Artist Gunter Demnig set into the pavement of sidewalks in front of the buildings where Nazi victims once lived or worked.

[25] EBU (2014) speaks of “connecting with a networked society”. In order to adapt to social change, society and its public service becomes a networked organization with the emphasis on this means of communication.

[26] The law that was recently passed by the Senate provides for public consultations to start.


[28] Barca, 2007. It should not be forgotten that local TV stations have the duty to transmit news programmes. These often perform more of a public function than the various regional RAI news programmes, and for doing so they receive public funding.

[29] Bearing in mind that the digital divide, i.e. the difference in technological skills, is a form of division and exacerbates inequality in social and cultural capital. It is also a division that increases in proportion to the growth in the use of the web throughout the world; the greater number of people who produce, distribute and access material and products via the internet, the greater the gap in understanding on the part of those who are excluded.

[30] Brevini, 2015.

[31] Burri, 2015.

[32] Investigated by Erik Lambert for Infocivica e sintetizzata in Infocivica, 2014.

[33] Mazzucato, 2014, p. 15.

[34] It would be excellent if the RAI could involve the country (perhaps with a gentle nudge) in caring for the common good, and creating a shared national identity. For example, by starting 2017 with a call for all producers to come up with ideas to this effect.

[35] Keynes J.M. (1926) ‘The End of Laissez-Faire’, pp. 329-39, at p. 333 in John Maynard Keynes, Essays in Persuasion (W.W. Norton and Company, 1963).

[36] And thus in costly high risk projects.

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