Maria Pia Rossignaud is a “digital explorer”, heading the trade publication Media Duemila and Vice-President of the TuttiMedia Institute, gathering press and internet professionals. She talked with Christophe Leclercq, founder of EurActiv, as part of the Media4EU series, about populism, education by and for the media, and what the EU should do.
There is a parallel between the rise of social media and the rise of populism. Do you think that Beppe Grillo and the Five Star Movement are surfing on similar trends and methods as Brexit and Trump?
I have to say yes. Last week at the prize ‘Nostalgia del Futuro’ we organised a keynote by Derrick de Kerckhove, a very important digital culture guru. He said that we have to wonder what kind of elements from the past we have to bring into our future to avoid things like Brexit, Trump and maybe the Movimento 5 Stelle getting power in Italy. We have to realise that the mind has to be filled with culture: if there is no culture in our minds, then populism will rise. So the media have a big responsibility in all this.
Is there a serious risk that the Movimento 5 Stelle could hold and win a referendum against the EU if they were voted in?
I don’t think so. People say about the country something I always find amusing: ‘the situation in Italy is always dramatic, but never catastrophic’.
Let’s turn to European identity, a big topic for you I think. How can media help people realise who they are?
The media can help develop an identity that goes across boundaries. It is still hard to think that are no borders around the nations, that Europe is our border. I think that in this case television has much more responsibility than other media formats to communicate a culture of international identity. For instance I do not agree with Renzi’s decision not to fly the flag of Europe besides him in his last press conference.
Why is that?
Because he wants to be the one who doesn’t put Europe on top of his agenda. For me this was the worst thing in the Renzi campaign.
Would it help if there were more media exchanges across borders so that people could understand other perspectives? For example, the German view on migration is very different from the Italian view.
Yes, of course. This reminds me of the TV miniseries ‘War and Peace’ that was done in different places all over Europe. The story was re-arranged to bring different European cultures to everyone’s homes. I don’t know about the rest of Europe, but television is still the most important and popular media in Italy. So if you want to reach someone you have to be on TV.
The European Union takes a lot of initiatives regarding press freedom, typically with little impact unfortunately. What else could the EU do in the media sector?
Well I think that press freedom is an idea, a theory, a dream. What the Europeans can do is support the continuum of a press identity, which means having publishing houses which are not connected with power and business.
So you’re worried about the so-called oligarchs?
Yeah I think that technology will bring us to some kind of oligarchy.
Because it leads to free content so people have to cross-subsidise from other business branches?
No, it’s not necessarily free content; it only means that the content is not provided by the mainstream or other accredited distribution media. What is required is an agreement between over-the-top distributors and government to allow fair use and income as well. If over-the-top distribution keeps growing it becomes indispensable for the government to regulate it. Wild distribution will not self-regulate and government cannot stay indifferent.
On the other hand, I have nothing against Google because I am Vice-President of Osservatorio TuttiMedia which is the only association in Italy where competitors try to collaborate. We have Google and newspapers together on the same table and we try to focus on solutions which are good for everybody. But what I mean is that, if I have such strong means of distribution the government will need my help to rein in wild distribution, and a risk of oligarchy emerges. An example of this are practices of the Singapore government, which you can read about in an English article in Media Duemila.
So are you basically asking for regulatory intervention by the public authorities?
As one of my best friends always said – he was a policy official for AGCOM [Ed. authority for communications in Italy]- ‘to me innovation should not be destructive but disruptive”. We don’t want to destroy everything, we have to construct and if there are very strong positions, we have to negotiate.
In the past the EU has directly subsidised media programmes that are now being phased out. Now the focus seems to shift towards innovation programmes and potentially human resources programmes. What do you think?
The key to the future of the press is that the content needs to be of quality. As the Canadian thinker Marshall McLuha said in the 80s, we will become a new form of art like theatre, a form of social commentary that has to be sustained by government. But I hope we will not come to this. So I think that Europe has to promote a line of help to everyone that delivers good information, doesn’t matter if on paper or online. For far too long we have made the distinction between the very important people writing for newspapers and the pariah on the internet, which is a problem. Quality content is the future, created by people who can go to where there is important experimentation, investigative journalism, science and other things that drive change.
have you heard of the two Paris media ventures Mediapart and Revue XXI?
Revue XXI yes, Mediapart maybe I’m not sure.
Mediapart focuses on investigative journalism online, Revue XXI is on paper. Both have no advertising and sustain on subscriptions only.
Yes. In fact looking at how the internet arrived and started changing everything so fast, my mentor Giovanni Giovannini used to say ‘Journalists do not go anymore in the street to speak with people, that’s the problem!’
There is talk about an ERASMUS exchange program for media professionals, not only for journalists but also for young business people in the media sector. Do you think it would be a good idea? For example, how many people from Italy could be involved?
I think that an ERASMUS programme for the sake of change knowledge is always a good idea. It also depends from the type of ERASMUS, if you are sent to a place where there is no freedom and no way to learn about democracy and journalism it could be hard. But in principle I agree, we live in an era of globalisation, we have to mix. For Italy, I think that we should send everybody!
So, not only young people?
No the old people even more so! But they cannot change because of their mentality and of their way to work.
Do you think they would be open to that? How do you think you could convince them? Via your associations, for example?
Well, we will try. But I think that a good selling point would be telling them that they can maintain their job, otherwise they are out.
So it would be like medical doctors, who have to go to some training programmes, otherwise they lose their license.
Yes. If you have an accident while driving a car, if you take someone’s life, you cannot drive again for some time.
In Italy the status of journalist is very protected. As part of this status is there some obligation to do lifelong training?
Yes, four of five years ago they introduced obligatory training sessions for journalists. We have to gain some points every three years, and if you don’t you are reprehended in some way, but I’ve never heard of it being seriously enforced.
That is a positive step. Is there an international dimension to this training?
No, but what I organised was also about the deontology of Europe. To me, opening minds on European issues is the first step to being open to the world.