Ethereal Shadows – Communications and Power in Contemporary Italy

Ethereal Shadows cover - Pizza Politics

There was a time when the State controlled Italian TV and private companies had no say in it. Then liberal reforms came and apparently in a fit of absence of mind, TV monopoly shifted from the public to the private sphere. But  why such an accumulation of media in one’s hands? In other words, how did Berlusconi manage to establish his media regime? Also, what the scenario of Italian media in the future? These and other questions find an answer in Ethereal Shadows, an outstanding study of the Italian media and an extraordinary effort to find a way out to a desolating situation that has no equal in the whole civilized world.

The authors, Berardi, Jacquement and Vitali, called the book after after small areas where the frequency of a national broadcast can’t be picked up because of natural or man-made obstacles. Hundreds of ethereal shadows are used by activists who have managed to impose their signal over the broadcast of a national network and to set up their own TV stations. The limited transmission range of these TVs stands against the corrupt logics of a media empire that is deeply rooted in discourses of power. Small strongholds of freedom, ethereal shadows have started the battle for democracy in Italy. In the eyes of the writers, only media-centered mobilizations can destroy the totalitarian control of information brought about by Berlusconi’s TV system.

Therefore, the development of Italian media since WW2 is considered in order to understand the roots of Berlusconi’s media regime. Starting from the analysis of post-war RAI  (Italian Broadcasting Corporation) and the influence of Christian Democratic governments on its structure, the writers then consider the progressive shift from a monopoly to a duopoly TV system. The relationship between Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and Berlusconi in the late ‘80s shows the discourses of power concealed behind Berlusconi’s media empire.   A set of laws irregularly benefitting Berlusconi’s companies were then passed by Berlusconi’s governments  throughout ‘90s up to today. Thus, the link between Italian media and politics becomes clear before the reader’s eyes. What emerges is a mutual and symbiotic relationship: partisan TV programs turn out a highly influential means of political propaganda while laws passed by Berlusconi’s governments nourish the growth of the media empire.

At this point the foreign reader is likely to ask himself:  how about the Italian people and the opposition parties? Why have they not opposed this gigantic conflict of interests? Orwell and the Frankfurt School would agree with the writers’ analysis. The mechanisms of Berlusconi’s TV system are compared to those logics that supported the establishment of 20th century’s totalitarian regimes. TV language and Berlusconi’s own communication techniques reveal a distortion of reality: words lose their meaning and turn into their opposite, facts disappear absorbed by an Orwellian act of doublethink. Opposition is therefore put down by pervasive mechanisms which manage to turn resistance into acceptance, truth into lies. The character of Italians is also considered to endow the reader with a clear understanding of the situation. A secularized conformism among the Italian people has undoubtedly played a fundamental role in the success of Berlusconi’s media dictatorship.

How then could the Italians fight the system? It seems there are no ways out. But the writers have deep trust in ethereal shadows. Orfeo TV, the first TV station broadcasting thanks to ethereal shadows, is offered as an example of battlefield. A new approach to TV broadcasting showed that media monopoly is not so irresistible. Indeed, Orfeo TV’s local dimension encouraged the demolition of the barrier between spectator and producers, one of the basic tenets of today’s TV system.  A bunch of media professionals broadcasting from a bar showed that Berlusconi’s media domination can be challenged through the use of alternative language and approach to broadcasting.

Ethereal Shadows,  an accurate analysis of “communications and power in contemporary Italy” and a hope for the future, is what you want to read to know everything about the current situation of Italian media.


About Ruggero Galtarossa

I'm a BA Journalism and Sociology student at City University London. I was born in Padova, Italy.I cover Italian politics and society from the angle of an Italian part-time exile. You can find me on the Huffington Post UK. View all posts by Ruggero Galtarossa

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