As Italy heads into the age of digital television, growing
numbers of discontented Italians are turning off their TV sets and
heading out to the theater.
Last month, Esterni, a small pro-arts organization in Milan,
called on television viewers to strike, offering discount museum and
theater tickets around the country to anyone who handed in their TV
remote control handset for the day.
"We're not political," said Barbara Specchia, one of the strike
organizers. "We just think for too many people television is the
only source of entertainment, information, and culture. Too many
people never look outside."
The group has been organizing strikes for seven years, with
record results this year as more than 400,000 people switched off.
But to many Italians, television is not just a cultural sedative;
it has become a pervasive political tool, and spurning television
is, therefore, a political gesture.
Government figures show that the average Italian watches
television for four hours a day and, since Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi controls most of what is broadcast, critics say that the
nation is being fed just one political line.
According to one of Italy's leading authors, Umberto Eco, Italy
is living under a new kind of dictatorship, the "media regime." The
difference between Benito Mussolini's fascist regime and a media
regime, Mr. Eco says, is that "in fascist times, people knew that
the newspapers and the radio were only communicating government
press releases." In Italy today, political opponents are given
airtime, Eco says, but they are never allowed to have the last word.
"A media regime does not need to send its opponents to jail. It
silences them," he wrote in La Repubblica newspaper earlier this
Several satirists and critics of Berlusconi have been forced off
state television Radio Televisione Italiana in the 2-1/2 years since
Mr. Berlusconi was elected.
And a media bill to be assessed in parliament later this month,
designed to open up and modernize the Italian television market,
could also present an opportunity for Berlusconi's media empire to
expand into newspapers and radio.
Many artists and thinkers now see the country's theaters as the
last escape route from a "media dictatorship" in the heart of
But even on stage, the threat of lawsuits hovers. "They want to
shut our mouths," Franca Rame told La Repubblica newspaper this week
as she and her husband, Nobel Prize-winning playwright Dario Fo,
were sued for defamation over their satirical play about Berlusconi,
which is currently touring Italy.
After a week performing their play, "The Two Headed Anomaly," in
Berlusconi's home town of Milan, a Forza Italia senator, Marcello
Dell'Utri, sued the artists, claiming one million euros compensation
for their "baseless attack" on his reputation. …