Italian TV ‘infotainment’ sows confusion over war in Ukraine

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As in most of Europe, Italian television talk shows focus heavily on the war in Ukraine, but instead of devoting time to politicians and specialists, they rarely feature real experts on the subject.

Instead, they interview famous commentators specializing in football or Italian politics, philosophers, writers, newspaper editors and, in general, well-known people who know little about the situation in Ukraine and have limited knowledge of Russian history, Ukrainian history or international relations. .

And they always invite at least one guest who is either pro-Russian or who also blames Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky Moscow and Kyiv for the conflict.

“In the 1990s, [the Italian scholar] Umberto Eco used the term ‘infotainment’ to say that television was producing more and more information in the form of entertainment,” says Anna Maria Lorusso, associate professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna.

“Today, information and entertainment overlap a lot and, in my opinion, this is especially true in the case of the war in Ukraine.”

Also in the 1990s, historian Nicola Tranfaglia pointed to “the tendency towards ‘television sensationalism’ which favors any opinion which causes scandal, any thesis which arouses controversy”.

In 2022, the situation does not look any better: the more commentators indulge in sensationalism, the more they are invited to talk shows – and media culture has an impact on public opinion.

EUobserver spoke to pensioners outside a supermarket in Padova, a wealthy city in the northeast of the country. When asked who was responsible for the war in Ukraine, two of them answered “Putin” and “Russia”, while a third answered “NATO”.

When asked why he thought NATO was responsible, he replied: “TV says so”.

In Italy, as in many parts of Europe, people read fewer and fewer books and newspapers. Many Italians – especially older people and blue-collar workers – keep themselves informed through talk shows and current affairs programs, which often re-air talk show highlights.

Social media is also heavily influenced by what is said on talk shows (and in turn influences them).

“Italian television has become inaccessible. Talk shows keep inviting Russian propagandists, which only confuses people. Sometimes they even make things up,” says Yaryna Grusha Possamai, Ukrainian-born author and professor of Ukrainian language and literature at the State University. from Milano.

In a recent and infamous example, several Italian media reported that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg opposed Zelensky’s offer to cede Crimea to Russia – in fact, Zelensky did not never made such an offer and Stoltenberg said nothing about it.

Another characteristic of Italian coverage of the war is the long interview, with few interruptions or questions.

A private Italian channel aired one with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on May 1 that sparked outrage, but appealed to those who were already following the many pro-Russian accounts on social media.

This constituency is predominantly far-right, despises Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, dreams of Italy’s exit from the EU and frequently quotes talk shows to back up its views.

“I think Italian talk shows give so much space to Russian propagandists and pro-Moscow commentators because they are always looking for public attention, so they are always trying to make a fuss, foment a scandal,” said Grusha Possamai.

Fabio Giglietto, associate professor of internet studies at the University of Urbino Carlo Bo, agrees.

“Our political talk shows have special characteristics,” he says. “There are so many of them, so there is fierce competition for an audience. But they all use the logic of showmanship, of polarized contrast between two factions as an element of sensationalism.”

For Fabio de Nardis, professor of political sociology at the University of Salento, there is a “wider tendency towards polarization in Italy, and not only on the war in Ukraine”. The media welcomes and encourages such polarization because it generates debate and attracts an audience.”

Social networks also have something to do with it. “Because the media needs an audience, they build their priorities based on the debates taking place on social networks, which often are not based on precise information,” explains de Nardis.

Many talk shows often even talk about the risk of nuclear war with a healthy dose of hysteria. This frightens viewers, especially older ones, who have not forgotten the tensions of the Cold War and voted for anti-NATO parties like the communist PCI or the neo-fascist MSI some forty years ago.

Italy’s economic slowdown, which primarily affects workers and the unemployed (groups that often vote for populist parties like the far-right League), is also contributing to growing criticism of Kyiv and NATO.

For example, on May 20, some unions called for a strike “against war, the war economy” and what they called the “war government”.

And according to a recent poll published in the daily La Stampa, 24.5% of League voters thought the sanctions against Russia were dangerous, and 30.4% thought they were unnecessary. Nearly 73% of League voters opposed sending arms to Ukrainians.

In the same hothouse media culture, more than one in three Italians fear that the world is on the verge of a third world war and that food, especially pasta and bread, may run out in the coming months. cause of the conflict – a nightmarish prospect for a nation that always craves a good plate of spaghetti.

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