The revolution WILL be broadcast - at least locally

This essay provides a short and insightful overview of alternative television projects in the Italy of Berlusconi.

"Once upon a time there was a king who ruled over a country and its big television networks, controlling the screens and the minds of most of his people." Unfortunately, this is not just a fairy tale. Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is the head of a conservative, neo-fascist coalition in Italy that has more than 50 percent of the seats in both houses of Parliament. As the head of government, he decides all the strategic approaches and decisions of state-owned television (RAI) and also determines, as the owner, who is allowed to say what in his huge private television network (Mediaset). To get some idea of his commercial and editorial powers: RAI and Mediaset together cover 97 percent of the entire television advertising market.

In this climate of media dictatorship, a flourishing underground movement of media artists is concentrating, to an ever greater extent, on television as an arena for activism. Its roots go back as far as the mid-nineties. One of the first experiments was carried out in 1996 by a group of Tuscan video artists, including Giacomo Verde, Claudio Parrini, Francesco Galluzzi and Federico Bucalossi. This seminal 'minimal tv' [1], as it was called, deconstructed the medium by means of various performances, and tried to expose its hidden mechanisms. Its open studio constantly changed its schedule according to the wishes of its viewers, and broadcast its programmes to the scattered households via cable TV in the particular area. Part of the group also took part in the first 'Hackmeeting' (1998) with a local TV station called 'boicoopTV'. 'boicoop TV' broadcast the event to the surrounding area and asked residents what they thought about the imminent eviction of 'Hackmeeting' from the square where it was taking place. In the same years (1997-1999), surveillance cameras (CCTV) were set up by a collective of young video artists in Forte Prenestino, a fortress in Rome that is now a squat. During the urban Overdose Fiction Festival, the project had the title 'OFFline TV'.
After the last event, a local broadcaster in Rome gave the same collective - which was soon to become the performance-oriented Candida TV [2] (now one of the leading broadcasters of the national Video Hacktivist Group) - one hour of broadcast time per week.

But only after the consolidation of Berlusconi's government (2001) with its unbearable propaganda did a large movement arise, with its roots in Bologna. This led to small groups producing their own 'street television'. Armed with Guy Debord's theories, and redolent of the pirate radio fever of the early nineties, 'Orfeo TV' launched its broadcasts on 21 June 2002. Matteo Pasquinelli, the editor of the essay collection 'Media Activism', and Franco 'Bifo' Berardi, one of the most interesting media theoreticians in Italy, are among the committed core members of the group. The project 'Telestreet' [3] spread rapidly over the entire country in a chain reaction. Following a national meeting ('Eterea' [4]), the first joint broadcast took place on 22 February 2003. It involved no fewer than 25 small television stations throughout the country, which all broadcast the same video cassette. An active resistance network was publicly proclaimed as an alternative to the centralised and dull broadcasts of 'official' TV stations, a network that sought democratisation of the most widespread and powerful disseminator of information at grass roots level. Summarising the paradox of the potential illegality of these actions, the philosopher Stefano Bonaga declared "We are illegal, but constitutional," alluding to Article 21 of the Italian constitution, which guarantees freedom of opinion. The draft bill by Giovanna Grignaffini, a Member of Parliament belonging to the Democratic Left, takes the same line, aiming to establish the freedom to use local, unoccupied TV frequencies. On the web site of 'Telestreet', you find instructions for building your own TV station for 1.000 euros, along with other technical and legal tips.

The importance of the medium of television for political propaganda has always been recognised. For example, thirty years ago, during the obscure years of terrorism in Italy, the first public action of the Red Brigades was to illegally broadcast their theories in particular regions on the same frequencies as the midday news programme of the national TV station (tg1). These days, enthusiastic media activists and technicians who have contributed their knowledge to help build up a separate communications infrastructure are no longer alone in their efforts to peacefully democratise the TV screen. The new 'Megachip' association is promoting the important 'Basta Auditel' campaign [5] to get rid of the system of counting and measuring the TV audience, a system that is administrated unfairly by the big networks and acts as one of the main instruments of propaganda. 'No War Televsion' [6] focuses on gatherings and demonstrations and also found a broadcasting location here and there on a satellite channel; an Internet archive of its broadcasts has even been set up. 'New Global Vision' (NGV) [7] is a huge archive, regularly updated, that comprises over one hundred videos by artists and activists, all downloadable for free. The NGV meets the VHS quality standard and is the unofficial depot for a critical camera generation - a visual database, open to all. "The contents have to be expressed through movement, by the critical awareness of each individual, by all those who create culture and information on an independent basis," says the manifesto of the site, which is based on open standards and license-free software.

Having a media mogul as prime minister creates the ideal basis for sounding out the potential of a media practice of resistance that is also able to integrate spontaneous phenomena of the scene. The self-styled 'Union of Televisions' in Milan, for example, proclaimed a 'country-wide strike of the television audience' and called on those that wanted to listen to switch off their televisions and go out into the open with their remote controls. Its slogan was: "Liberate free time ? for becoming aware of everything we do not see when we watch television". The next goal suggested by the Union is a 'Law on the Rights of the Television Audience,' this time also integrating the performing arts. 'Tubocatodico' [8] takes the psychotic effects of intensive television viewing as the basis for a performance that was conceived by a computer/electronic music/theatre collective using only free software ('FreeJ and dyne : bolic' GNU/Linux), to "exorcise the evil household device": probably the most liberating exorcism that a free spirit can strive for.


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Originally printed in Springerin 2/03 Time for Action