The BBC Affaire

Pubblico qui un carteggio nato in seguito ad una intervista rilasciata ad Alan Johnston (BBC News, Italy)

Prima mail

Hi Alan,

I do remember the interview: it was a really good interview and this is the only reason why i am going to waste a few minutes of your time asking you a couple of questions. Please don’t get me wrong: i have not interests in complaining, i just want to understand what happened to the contents.

In the past months, my friends and I have given several interviews: each of us with his/her own style, but we usually try to provide an analysis of the situation (sometimes relying on examples describing personal experiences) and then we try to sketch a few simple ideas about possible solutions to the problems.
All these interviews by journals and TV networks end in the same way: we are presented as a “caso umano” (translated more or less in: “look at that poor helpless guy in need”). I must say i was happy to have the chance to talk with somebody from the BBC and I told myself: “this time it’s going to be different: these journalists are serious and know how to report to their readers/listeners/etc”.

Now, it may be that i have given you the idea that i am helpless, but i kind of remember that at least I have been able to say clearly that Monti and the whole european austerity system is making the situation worse for all of us. I also tried to provide reasons for that and if i did not convince you, it would have been a good idea to ask for more details. But that was not the point, was it?
Question is: What’s going on with journalism?
“Poor young fellow, let’s hope a 70 years old man close to the bankers will take care of him”. That’s what I read between the lines in the article and that’s not what is going on here: I am not helpless, I am frustrated! Not only i am not allowed to take care of myself, but I am also described by the media as if I am not willing or able to do it .

Once again, I am not complaining and I still think it was a nice chat, but it’s about time to ask for a change.

All the best,

Prima risposta

Hi Vincenzo,

Thanks for your note, and I’m really sorry that you are unhappy with the way you were presented in the article I wrote. Of course that’s the last thing that I wanted. In your letter you asked some questions because, as you say, you want to know how the piece was put together. And I’m more than happy to explain.

You say in your note that I made you appear helpless. That I portrayed you as “not willing or able” to take care your of employment prospects. But in my defence, these are some of the things that you actually said while we talked — quotes. You said “the point is that you don’t have the option. You are forced to go away….” And later you made the point again. “You’re forced to go away….it’s sad because it’s not an option….I would love to have the option….” You really did give me the impression that day that you were unable to control your employment prospects — to help yourself — in the face of a very unfair system. To me, what I wrote doesn’t feel like an inaccurate reflection of what you said. I even included one of your quotes in the piece.

And I don’t think that I portrayed you as being “unwilling” to help yourself. What I actually wrote was this: “Vincenzo has spent years engaged in left-wing political activism. He has worked to try to change things here.” Surely nobody could read that and then draw the conclusion that you have been “unwilling” to try to change your situaton. It is unfair to say, as you do, that I presented you in that way.

I appreciate that you are also unhappy that I didn’t reflect your view that Monti’s austerity programme “is making the situation worse”. At one point in the interview you said, “They say that they want to create more jobs to help the young people, but it’s not going to work — it’s not going to work because it didn’t work in Greece. It didn’t work in Argentina.” And you may well be right. This government may well fail. But I would say that it is still early to say that it will achieve nothing. That it will definitely make things worse. Maybe Italy isn’t quite the same as Greece. Maybe there are different economic factors at work here. Maybe it’s a bit like Britain, which some people would argue did respond to some tough economics in the 80s. Maybe Monti will actually deliver some more new jobs. If you say something to a journalist and he doesn’t put it in his article, it doesn’t necessarily mean — as you suggest — that he doesn’t understand, or that he’s not reporting properly. A journalist’s job is not just to write down everything he gets told in an interview. The job is to think about what he’s told in the light of other things that are going on, and then make choices about what should be included, and what shouldn’t. You won’t agree with the choice that I made. But as I listened as you spoke that morning, I felt that the case that you made is not yet quite proven. But if and when it is clear that Monti is indeed failing the young people of Italy, I will definitely report that. And it’s hardly as if I suggested that Monti has the answer. Immediately after I mentioned his plans, another interviewee dismissed them. He describes them in my piece as “just talk”.

You may well not agree with anything that I’ve said here. But I really appreciated the tone of your note to me, and I hope you can see that I have tried to explain how was I was thinking as I put the article together.

All the best,


Seconda mail

Hi Alan,

Thank you for your reply: you gave me material to think about.

It seems to me it is a problem of perspectives: from my point of view, my present condition cannot be separated from my ideas of where i want to be and the tools i need to get there.
Now, as you wrote me, my ideas about the government and its politics are not facts, so you may be right in avoiding writing about that: I see you have a good point, but then I’m wondering how to face politics proposed via mass media by the italian gerontocratic system. It doesn’t sound like a good idea to sit and wait for history to take place and part of our problem is that we aim at providing a different representation of reality.

Long story short, I think I am missing something.

Thanks for your patiente: hope there will be chance in the future for more talk.

All the best,

PS I would like to publish this whole conversation on my blog (jointly with a link to the article), if you are ok with it.

Seconda risposta

Hi Vincenzo,

Thanks for your reply. And with regard to whether I should have included your critique of Mr Monti’s broad approach, of course I understand the point that you make –that you don’t want to wait for the judgement of history as to whether he might get it right or not. And I’m really not suggesting that we do that. I’m sure that the government will be judged as its policies unfold. And I’ll be dong my best to work things out as they go along. All I’m saying is that in these weeks when Mr Monti is still putting his plans in place, it just seemed premature to include the argument that he was already making things worse. Just at a time when it felt like Italy was actually edging away from a Greek-type scenario, it seemed to jar a bit to make the argument that the country would go in somthing like that direction. I appreciate though that this may be the most temporary trend. That quite soon Italy might again be looking more like Greece. As I said before, you may be right. All I’m saying is that at the time we talked, it felt early to make the case that failure was inevitable. But once again, I don’t think that my piece suggested that the government necessarily had the answers. The one comment on its plans comes from the contributor who follows you, who dismisses the programme as “just talk”.

And in your letter you ask how you can challenge the politics of the “Italian gerontocratic system” as “proposed via the mass media”. But I guess I would say that in a piece I did a little early I did my best to reflect the politics of those of some of your generation who are challenging the “gerontocratic system”. And I am sure I will be reflecting that sort of perspective again in the future as I try to paint the fullest picture of the situation here. I’m sure that you will argue that the earlier piece is not a complete view, or that misses important aspects of the broader argument. But anyway, I have copied it below in case you want to take a look.

All the best,

Terza mail

Hi Alan, (sorry for the delay: i thought I have sent you this few days ago, but it was still in the draft folder)

Actually I liked the article! I would have mentioned that Rome does not have a “normal” major: it becomes easier to understand why people in the Valle theatre will never trust his word. (Would you?)

Thinking about how to make a full picture of the situation…
this open letter has been published a couple of days ago on by the “Corriere della Sera” (second widest diffused newspaper in Italy) and mentioned several times by other networks. Long story short, it is a pro-Monti open letter in support of liberism and free-market written by self describing “young students in their twenties”.
After a brief research (simple use of google!), independent bloggers ( have find out that most of the authors are strongly connected with the PDL (Berlusconi’s political party) or in general collaborate with right wing groups (at least one writes constantly for a racist, cripto-fascist online magazine), generally from rich families.

Interestingly, the authors have not been asked to tell who they are and what their condition is: the Corriere decided to publish their political ideas and opinions selling them as ideas coming from the “young”.

It is probably bad journalism, but they have the right to do it -of course!-: journalists like everybody else have political opinions and hence, they have biases, fair enough!
Point is: in Italy there was already a “wee bit” unbalanced news system when Berlusconi was in power and the things -incredibly- got worse when the new government started to receive support from all major political party, because now almost everyone is providing news using the same perspective. As a result, given a huge economic and social problem, we are told there only is one “technical” -neutral- solution. It is a bitter medicine, but it is the only cure (and this is one of the most used metaphors). Even when the discussion presented by the media focusses on an important issue (such as article 18), it is given for granted the main idea that Italy needs more liberism to get rid of the crisis, problem is how to implement it (e.g. with or without article 18).

I don’t know exactly how much Paul Krugman (or similar positions) is read in English speaking countries, but we hardly have anything like that presented as a serious idea here in Italy. Those who have these positions are presented as ultra-liberals, non-realistic idialists, or they are simply ignored, focussing the attention on the condition of the speaker rather than on the spoken words.

After your explanation, I would not say your article belongs to this phenomenon, but maybe it is easier to understand my reaction.




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