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Photo [Flickr/ Johnnie Maneiro]

 

Giampiero Gramaglia is a former Editor-in-Chief of the ANSA agency, of Agence Europe and of EurActiv Italy. He currently teaches journalism and leads the Istituto di Affari Internazionali. He talked with EurActiv’s founder Christophe Leclercq, as part of the Media4EU series, about trends in the Italian press and skills required for both journalists and management.

 

A number of worrying tendencies have emerged from the interaction between the social media and populism. What is your analysis of the phenomenon?

Most of the media in Italy, in Europe and worldwide, are obviously paying attention to the populist tendency of the public opinion. However, it also seems that, at least in Italy, the media have not taken a strong stance to fight against populism. Moreover, most of the main political leaders – Grillo and Salvini, but also Renzi and Berlusconi – are ready to adopt populist positions in an electoral perspective.

 

What is your view regarding content quality in the public sphere? What about the evolution of revenue models for the media?

I think that we have lost at least one generation of readers, and also that quality information has a cost and that people have to be ready to pay for it. They can either buy the information products directly online or accept that there is some form of sponsorship or of public subsidies behind them.

 

On the topic of public subsidies, the presence and success of these schemes varies greatly from a country to another. What is the Italian experience?

Well the Italian experience is a bad one. As you know, for almost all public subsidies in Italy, we have a problem with the quality of management. This is not a problem specifically for the media. So, a public subsidies programme could be accepted if it is supported by effective checks on the quality of the media. By quality I don’t mean that they have to be limited to high level products, they can also include general information, of course, but in a professional way.

 

As for European public subsidies, direct support to editorial production is controversial. The current EU projects are being phased out to be potentially replaced by innovation and perhaps human resources projects. What do you think?

I see favourably a European impulse to accelerate the evolution of the media from a technologic point of view. But the most interesting push could be towards creating new services able to interact at European level and not just at national level, which is the standard for people in the information industry, and also to build a better management class for the European media. We have a problem of journalistic quality, but also within media management. Even the most important outlets are struggling because of this crisis of managing and selling information.

 

I’m sure you know many journalism schools. Are you aware of any media management programs?

I can’t say there is no such a programme, but no, I’m not aware of any. I think that in Italy specifically publishing is not considered an industrial sector. Publishing houses are always considered a secondary activity because publishers often have their main interests elsewhere. [Ed. Referring to oligarchic trends which were also pointed out by other interviewees]. But this idea of creating a school or at least some training programme for people managing the editorial sector could be very interesting.

 

Should such programmes be national with easier language access? Or should they be cross-border with the advantage of learning from other countries?

All these programs would be better if they are cross-national, because people experiencing different ideas and different cultural environments are more open when they get back. So I think that we have to we should envisage a sort of exchange program or international experience for people who are looking for a job in these sectors.

 

The ERASMUS programme is mainly for students, but it has expanded to, for example, ERASMUS for entrepreneurs and now perhaps ERASMUS4media. This would basically be about exchanging not only journalists but also advertising managers, social media managers etc. between different media organisations. What do you think?

The ERASMUS programme is probably the best scheme that the European Union has ever created and financed. Moreover, with journalists you can achieve a multiplier effect because they can reach a lot of people. So you would improve their journalistic performance and let lots of people know that the European environment could contribute something to their professional development. So I think this could have a very large impact.

 

The Europe editor of The Times, who has spent time in Brussels as a correspondent, told me that if more British journalists had spent time on the continent, it would have made a difference in the Brexit campaign. Do you think so too? Would these programmes have an impact in Italy, for example regarding other populist trends?

Well, it’s a joke, but Boris Johnson spent a lot of time in Brussels as a European correspondent and I don’t have the feeling that he is an example of a successful pro-European British politician.

 

Imagine that every year a few hundred Italian journalists would spend a few months in other countries, what impact would it have on reporting and perhaps on policy-making?

Of course you would have a part of them who come back and tell everybody: ‘those people are crazy! Italy is better!’. But the large majority of them keeps something positive from this experience and transmits it to others. The same happens in the university programme, some people see the experience as very upsetting and deceiving and others are happy. It depends from a lot of personal elements, but in general the balance is positive. I think that on principle journalists are curious people so if they visit another country, they try to collect information and they are ready to share it.

 

What do you think about the anniversary of the EU event in Rome in March and the opportunity to re-launch the EU?

The anniversary is an occasion to create interest and attention to the integration process not only in Italy, because Rome will be at the centre, but in all Europe. However, we don’t want to give the people the feeling that we are wasting time and money for a celebration. My hope is that this occasion will be a moment for launching something concrete, even just a single project. I don’t expect them to launch a European defence programme or something big.

 

On this point the 9th of May Movement is proposing an Erasmus for high school pupils.

I was thinking exactly about this kind of project, something that is possible to implement in the months to follow. So the heads of state launching this project the 25th of March can say students can already to start participating next September and exchanging experiences. So the families of European citizens will measure the impact of the decision. There are many European decisions which are taken without you don’t see their impact until years later.

Another thing is that many Europeans, including Italians, Greeks but also French and others, are expecting some response to the migration crisis. Creating programmes in North Africa is fine, but also perhaps something which is closer to European feelings and values: establishing a European border control force or a European assistance programme to deal with people when they arrive. In essence, creating a situation in which when a migrant comes to the international border of the EU, he is being accepted by Europe and not by Italy, which then in turn tries to transfer him to Austria or to France. We need to make sure that people are confident in the capacity of the EU to deal with the migration problem.

 

Could the roadmap to re-launch the European project include something about the media sector itself? As you mentioned, despite its status as a pillar of democracy, it has never been handled as an economic sector. What do you think?

I don’t think we should focus on the media sector, but rather on access to information and availability of information for the people. The media sector is the industrial consequence of freedom of information throughout Europe, which is still to be reached in some of our countries.

 

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