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Prix Italia eyeing the eye of the Public TV storm.

The people of Parma take their prosciutto and cheese (Parmigiano) seriously. That's why the 1,000 or more delegates to the 44th Annual Prix Italia will be in for a culinary treat. After all, they will need a full stomach to discuss the main festival's topic: the new role of public television in a mixed (public and private) cohabitation. Or as it is officially stated, "The end of the story: The reasons for public television in the age of changes."

Prix Italia is the RAI-sponsored event held each year in a different Italian city. This year, from September 16-27, Prix Italia will be headquartered at the Palazzo Ducale of Colorno outside Parma. This city was also selected because it is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's second wife's birth (Marie-Louise of Austria, duchess of Parma), the 100th anniversary of its famous citizen Giuseppe Verdi's death, and the 150th anniversary of the author Stendhal, who set his novels in Parma. Parma, a city of l 20,000 people is located 100 km south of Milan.

The key symposia on public TV will be held September 18th and 19th at Parma's Congress Center. Prix Italia's Secretary General Piergiorgio Branzi explained, "We'll not be defending public TV from the attack by the private TV sector. We'll be analyzing the new role of public TV."

Other major symposia will deal with "Mafia Emergency."

Some 56 broadcasting organizations from 36 countries will be equally participating to win the prestigious awards given both to radio and TV programs in several categories. Indeed, the arduous jury-duty bout at Prix Italia is considered a privilege but never fun or even a pleasant experience.

For Prix Italia to acknowledge the strength of the private TV sector is a major accomplishment, even though it still did not recover from the shock of the swift changes. With the justification that Prix Italia is organized by public broadcaster RAI, under the auspices of the European Broadcasting Union, Prix Italia doesn't yet allow the 12year old Silvio Berlusconi TV networks to join in its ranks.

The new role of public TV is, therefore, a topic that has generated vivid interest especially in the U.S. where PBS has been under attack from many quarters. PBS president, Bruce Christensen, is also serving in his last second term of the Prix Italia presidency. He's the first American to have that honor since ABC's former president Dick O'Leary back in 1980.

The recent PBS clash with a Bush Administration taken hostage by the reactionary right, plus the controversy over government funding, censorship and other drastic proposals could be used as case study by the public sector worldwide. PBS, like public TV entities in other countries, is being subjected to "privatization" talks or talks that advocate it "go increasingly commercial."

On one hand, conservative elements in America cannot understand why vast sums of money are being spent on public TV to serve the needs of a small group of "Quayle cultural elite" viewers ("it's cheaper to send each viewer a weekly cassette").

On the other hand, the liberal politically-correct crowd, who tend to reject commercial television, is fighting for the right of public TV to offer an alternative to the "vast wasteland." Their argument is, "if billions can be spent to manufacture useless war planes that cannot even fly, why can't the government invest in quality programming and culture?"

The question then becomes, what is a public TV network to do? It's a catch-22 situation. If it tries to compete with its commercial counterpart in order to reach vast audiences, (to satisfy reactionary needs), the same conservatives can then seize the moment to argue that 1) public TV should not use public money to compete with the private sector (plus,why duplicate the service?) and 2) public TV should then be sold to private enterprises.

In Western Europe, public stations are battling budget deficits, while their private counterparts are in many cases enriching themselves.

In the Far East, public TV is aggressively pursuing satellite distribution, global news delivery and commercial programming enterprises.

In parts of Africa and in the Middle East, the public sector has yet to evolve from the present government-owned broadcasting.

In Latin America, the few remaining government-owned stations are being auctioned off to the highest bidder, a route considered a lesser evil than public (politically independent) ownership.

The former communist regimes have left their TV systems in such a shamble that now "a tormented debate,'' in the words of Prix Italia's Branzi, is taking place to determine their best path for the future.

On a curious note, Americans perceive public TV, at least according to the editors of the World Guide to Television, as an organization traded on the stock exchange. For most other nationals, public TV is an organization funded by taxes, government grants and public donations but in any case always buffered from government interferences.
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Publication:Video Age International
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Previous Article:Teleliteracy - Taking Television Seriously.
Next Article:Italy's broadcast law to affect the status quo by leaving the status quo.

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