Italian Prime Minister’s Axe Shakes the Biggest Media Organization (RAI) and New Talents Take Over the TV Screen

Rome – Abdul Rahman Bitar - In Italy, RAI does not mean the Algerian dancing music that swept the world (originating from the Arabic word: rai رأي or opinion). It is the oldest and biggest media organization in the country, similar to the BBC in England, with several TV channels and radio stations that originally started in 1923 when Mussolini made his first radio speech from the Rome Opera House.
Last month a new President of RAI, Anna Maria Tarantola, was appointed after the recently appointed Prime Minister Mario Monti transferred her from managing the Central Bank of Italy to the media world and broadcasting. He also appointed, in consultation with the RAI Board, a new Director General, Luigi Gubitosi, born in Napoli in 1961. Gubitosi studied law then economics at the famous LUISS University in Rome and worked at Wind telecommunications and later at the Fiat car company as a financial director before moving to the Bank of America (Italy Branch). He is the first DG of RAI with a contract of fixed duration that expires in 2015 with annual salary of 600,000 Euros (or $ 750,000).
The RAI is a kind of kingdom with over 13,000 staff. From channel to channel, its news and debate programs and bulletins reflect the views of the governing or opposition parties. The First Channel is reserved for the government whereas the Third is for the opposition. Viewers of RAI 1 reach an average peak of 6 million every night.

Italian Prime Minister’s Axe Shakes the Biggest Media Organization (RAI) and New Talents Take Over the TV Screen

RAI has a rich history of presenting successful variety programs like Canzonissima and Sunday entertainment showing presenters who have lived through many epochs and entertained generations of Italians (for example in RAI past events such as those conducted by Raffaella Carra’, Pippo Baudo and Fabrizio Frizzi). Political programs such as the nightly Porta a Porta, presented by Bruno Vespa, has still been going on for the past 16 years. Great advertisements for Italian pasta in the seventies prepared by the legendary movie director Federico Fellini are still remembered fondly by RAI viewers.
The RAI budget and expenses are covered by annual subscriptions, ads and government support, but this entity has always invariably suffered from deficits and over expenditure. Nowadays Italy is in economic difficulty and the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, does not favor politicizing a public media organization in contrast to the private TV stations owned by the ex Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that tend to promote the Right’s political point of view.
The current Prime Minister, Professor Mario Monti, promised some six months ago to liberate the RAI from the tight grip of various political parties and to restore more professionalism and respect to the firm. This became more urgent with dwindling income derived from advertising and a decrease in the number of spectators after the move from analogue to digital broadcasting last year. This was also coupled with the upturn in trashy or vulgar programs which insisted on showing young dancing girls, even those with limited talent, as tended to be done in Berlusconi’s private channels.
Under pressure to restore public finances, Monti decided to hit RAI too with the axe of austerity in an effort to save wasted resources. He requested the RAI to cut its expenses the same way other government department were obliged to do. Staff was reduced, and so was the annual budget. Several RAI offices were closed, from New York to Beirut, from Istanbul to New Delhi and Moscow, while the total hours of broadcasts by the RAI International channel were shortened and the RAI Arabic channel was abolished altogether. Production budget for soap operas was reduced by $ 40 million to reach the level of $ 185 million for 2012, i.e. 44 % less than the budget level of 2008. Total reduction in the overall budget this year amounted to $ 330 million, thus threatening the quality of new episodes.
The present strategy of RAI to face the financial difficulties is also based on promoting new faces of ascending performers and presenters who proved their metal and degree of success. Another aspect is to increase comedy programs to mitigate the effect of the economic crisis prevailing in Italy while diminishing old (and usually silly) programs that benefited a certain group of ex officials and their friends or acquaintances.
Asharq Al Awsat talked to one of the rising new stars on RAI, Benedetta Rinaldi, who resembles Sofia Loren in her youth and bloom days. She was chosen to present the summer edition of the popular “ One Morning “ program which somehow resembles the famous US program “ Good Morning America “ on the ABC channel. The RAI program started for the first time in 1986; among its past presenters is the well-known and highly appreciated Antonella Clerici in the nineties. Rinaldi works with her colleague Gerardo Greco every day and introduces the program in a serious yet pleasant style that avoids “temptation” and the concept of “prima donna” because Rinaldi “likes to be natural and unpretentious “as she describes herself. She adds, “I don’t like to portray a character on the screen other than my real self “.
Rinaldi was born in 1981 in Rome and worked for several years at the Vatican Radio from a young age. She studied political science and began collaborating with the RAI since 2005. Last year she accompanied the Italian President Napolitano during the 150 years’ celebrations of establishing Italy as a unified state. Rinaldi recalls her trips to a number of countries in the Middle East two years ago, especially her visit to Lebanon and the UN forces in Southern Lebanon as well as her visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Benedetta Rinaldi says that the new Director General of the Organization showed up one day at her Morning program to see for himself how she was conducting herself and observe her program team’s method of operation. She felt that men had historically had a lot of influence on the RAI, and some managers have tended to assign “an entertainment light role to females “, but she feels that she and her collaborators in the daily morning program have given a more sedate touch by treating more serious topics and interviewing ministers such as Giulio Terzi, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs (and ex Ambassador in the US and successor to Camillo Cavour, one of the founders of Italian Unity in 1861). She continues by saying “Some thought that I was too young and had insufficient status or independent authority to be able to bring to bear to the program”.
The admiration of the public and the upshot in the number of viewers of her program assured her success because people felt that she was using her intelligence and cultural preparation rather than her looks and elegance in appearance as her primary asset. Rinaldi does not like a “ decorative role for women in the state TV since I believe in women’s causes and equality… the important thing is to demonstrate that females are not stupid and their bodies doesn’t invite insult “. Benedetta added “the secret of success for a TV presenter is to be honest and authentic. That is why it is imperative that I prepare the topics of discussion carefully, and study the arguments that may be used in the debate”. She continued in her friendly and attractive way to say “the spectator instinctively recognizes these qualities... when I worked in the RAI International channel and presented ‘Italy calls Italy’ I felt that Italian immigrants abroad favor authenticity and prefer that we minimize flattering our guests rather than exaggerate in their praise as often tends to be done in Italy “.
When I asked her about the balance in her life between work and personal matters, she replied confidently “I don’t feel the pressure of work or anxiety even though I wake up every day at five in the morning to present ‘Morning One – Summer Edition’ at 7:00 a.m. (Rome time). I spend my evening preparing for the subsequent day’s episode and I enjoy my work. This sentiment is important for anyone whose career lies in the media world and journalism, especially among the youth”.
Awaiting tomorrow’s episode of Morning One (Uno Mattina in Italian) on the First Channel of RAI, the spontaneous, charming Benedetta may not realize that her program and the one that follows it on Italian cooking have a big audience in far away, non-Italian speaking countries such as Pakistan. Admirers await the daily review of the Italian press headlines in combination with Benedetta’s friendly appearance, followed by the latest pasta recipe that includes ricotta cheese, bay leaf and walnuts, the preferred ingredients in the Indian subcontinent.

Monday, October 1st 2012
Rome – Abdul Rahman Bitar

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