Italian television first went on the air in January 1954. The new state-owned service, the Radio Autodiffusione Italiana (RAI), transmitted fewer than 1,500 hours of programs in the first year of service, and viewers were numbered only in the tens of thousands. This number increased rapidly as the economic miracle brought the cost of a television set within the reach of ordinary middle-class Italians (four million Italian families possessed television sets by 1964). In the early years of Italian broadcasting, the most popular programs were reproductions of American game shows such as Double or Quitsand the Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question. The star of these shows, a young Italian American named Mike Buongiorno, remains one of Italy’s most popular television personalities today. Nevertheless, there was also a public service element to early Italian broadcasting. Starting in 1959, RAI produced a program called Non e mai troppo tardi (It Is Never Too Late) that taught hundreds of thousands of Italians to read more fluently and to obtain the elementary school leaving certificate.
   For the first seven years only the first channel, RAI-1, was broadcasting; but, in 1961, a sister channel, RAI-2, appeared. RAI-3 came on the air in 1979 (there are also three parallel radio channels). In the 1980s, RAI’s monopoly over nationwide broadcasting was broken by an upstart entrepreneur, Silvio Berlusconi, who—beginning with a local TV station in Milan—rapidly expanded to build three national networks called Rete 4, Canale 5, and Italia 6. A politically sanctioned duopoly emerged, which has made Italy one of the least advanced countries in the industrialized world in the increasingly crucial field of entertainment technology and services. On a typical evening during primetime, 80 percent of the viewing public are watching either RAI (which retains a slight lead) or Berlusconi’s three channels. This situation continues despite several sentences by the Constitutional Court, which has found that the existing duopoly infringes article 21 of the Constitution, and a June 1995 referendum in which Italians voted by 55 to 45 percent to privatize the RAI. RAI is one of the most politicized television companies in the democratic world. During the 1980s, the three RAI channels, and especially their news programs, were fiefs of the main political parties, with RAI-1 being dominated by the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy (DC), RAI-2 by the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist Party (PSI), and RAI-3 by the communists. The five-person board of directors in charge of the RAI is composed of nominees from the main political parties, and the governing coalition ensures it has a majority. During the Berlusconi government of 2001–2006, there were several cases of leading journalists being squeezed out of their posts because they were regarded as hostile to the premier. Italian television is also highly politicized in content: Ahuge number of talk shows and discussion programs deal with political topics. One of these, Porta a Porta (Door to Door), hosted by the journalist Bruno Vespa, has been called the “third chamber” in Italy’s democracy, since so many politicians appear on it. In 2001, Silvio Berlusconi signed a five-point “contract with the Italians,” listing five pledges that his government intended to keep, live on the show. High union costs and Berlusconi’s reliance on cheap American imports (which are dubbed into Italian; no subtitles are used) have also ensured that none of the television companies has achieved a particularly good record in producing quality programs of its own. Italy is one of Hollywood’s biggest export markets.
   Television has generated a large media industry, which is also largely controlled by Berlusconi. Publitalia, which Berlusconi owns, has a stranglehold on the advertising market; Mediaset, Berlusconi’s media group, also owns Sorrisi e canzoni (Smiles and Songs), the leading national magazine specializing in listings and gossip about the stars.
   See also Education; Press.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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