Do Italian talk shows provide information?

In recent weeks, Italian talk shows have been heavily criticized for the way they have followed the events of the war in Ukraine, in many cases hosting controversial situations and versions of facts, when they were not completely discredited and proven false.

The most common responses to these criticisms by those who design and generally run talk shows point to the need to ensure a plurality of opinions in the debate, and to “give the opportunity to express them and perhaps refute them”: according to many, in this situation there would be an attempt to construct a useful sterile theatrical contradiction. Controversial and public, but at the cost of giving way to lies in arguments for which the truth has already been widely verified.

“Dispute is natural, and it is natural to differ. The problem is that the level of knowledge of some guests about the topic is not enough to prove a topic, says Olga Tokaryuk, a Ukrainian journalist who collaborated extensively with Italian media and who recently declined several invitations on TV broadcasts. According to Tokariouk, in Italian television debates “truths and lies are often on the same level” and leaders “should not give the microphone to everyone, but they should be moderate and distinguished.”

Istituto Affari Internazionali Director in Rome Nathalie Tocci, who is involved in various programs in this period, wrote about press That the Italian public debate on the war “certainly bears a high name for the diversity of opinions, but not the diversity which stems from different competencies all relating to the subject under discussion”. Tucci’s impression is that we are looking for “mixed opinions and that’s it”.

Experts and experts such as Tokaryok and Tochi, who recently found themselves deciding whether or not to participate in a talk show, had from time to time to deal with a dilemma that had existed for some time, highlighted by the war: is their presence useful to deny any fraud to other guests or does it legitimize on them and only contributes to the circus effect that the authors of the programs seek?

These discussions are part of a broader discussion about how talk show content should be considered: whether it should prioritize information and public service or whether it should be considered show and entertainment on an equal footing with other programs made with synthetic content. This is a related issue, because television is watched every day by millions of people, and the way they see its contents affects their opinions and knowledge of current events.

In a recent interview with fan page Corrado Formigli, presenter at La7 Cleaning Campaignanswered a question about the need to be a guest commentator who recently presented a distorted and problematic reconstruction of the war in Ukraine: “Critics make peace with this thing, talk shows must ensure pluralism and do it in a lively way. The genre, until proven otherwise, consists of Two words: talk and show.

A “talk show” is a fairly general way of defining television programs that are based on interviews by a host of one or more guests, or on conversations between the same guests moderated by a host. Usually we talk about topics of importance and events. It is a type of program that exists little all over the world, but is often implemented in different ways: in Italy, the imposition of the same format which in most cases involves a confrontation between guests of different political or ideological positions, which sometimes leads to a chaotic overlapping of voices and disagreements somewhat raging.

These broadcasts are often included in the radio and television genre called Information and entertainment, which was more or less born in the 1980s from the belief that informational contents should be introduced into an entertainment context, to satisfy the limited interest of a part of the public. The results of this process are highly variable and can pose ethical problems in journalistic work, when there is an excessive imbalance on the entertainment side.

Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman, hosts of two of the most popular American talk shows of all time. Both haven’t aired in a few years (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

According to several authors of Italian talk shows heard by The Post, there is no direct relationship between the impressive presentation of the contents (fights between guests, unpopular situations, etc.) and the increase in the audience of the program: in the long run. It wouldn’t be a winning strategy for maintaining audience loyalty, even if some individual episodes benefited from it in terms of ratings. However, there are guests who are more able than others to attract the audience – following viewers – and thus there is a great deal of disagreement.

The author of an important Italian talk show, who worked extensively on many other talk shows, told the newspaper that in the construction of programs one often thinks of a “prestigious guest”, but it is not easy to persuade him to participate, since on any given day, there is always ” Three or four other competition programs do the same job as you.” Hence the need to pay some repeat guests, to ensure their attendance: when these mechanisms are revealed, generally great disagreements arise, but not all talk shows do and not all guests accept or demand compensation. On the other hand, the work of TV guests is a form of work that stems from their skills and competencies, which generates profits for TV networks, and is therefore worth paying; On the other hand, the credibility of the theses expressed is in question, if we consider that a guest is paid by a program for saying things that contribute to the goals of his audience.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on the twenty-fourth of February, ratings of Italian talk shows have increased significantly, but also those news and informational TV programs in general, which are not so related to guests and entertainment. According to a survey conducted for TV smiles and songs From Studio Frasi (which deals with analysis of content and media audiences), in the first fifteen days of the war, audience ratings for news and talk shows increased by 7.8 percent. Some networks have changed their programming to focus more on what is happening in Ukraine.

In Italy there are many programs that can be included in the category of general talk shows. Looking only at the evening and early evening periods (from 20 onwards, more or less), in the first seven channels of public television – three RAI channels, three Mediaset and La7 – there are about twenty different talk shows per week, some of which are on the move almost every day. There are also many other programs that are broadcast in the morning or afternoon, and there are others on channels that reach a smaller audience. The first obvious result is that they serve a lot of guests every day.

In a context that requires as much clarity and seriousness as the war in Ukraine, the format of Italian talk shows has led to more invitations to be turned down than usual, and now there are different names when they appear at TV writers’ meetings and are greeted with “don’t watch TV.” . Tokaryuk is doing valuable work from Ukraine in spreading verified news about the war, including televised debates for many international TV channels. But in Italy he prefers not to participate, because “discussions are very emotional, priority is given to scandal, and the exchange is not based on facts but on opinions.” A few weeks ago, another Ukrainian journalist, Irina Matveyshin, she said surprised that she had to interfere with an Italian broadcast to explain that another guest’s arguments were “a repetition of Putin’s propaganda” and that they were unfounded.

Days ago, Vittorio Emanuele Barsi, professor of international relations at the Catholic University of Milan, cut off contact with a television program he was participating in, after being asked to comment on the opinions of other guests. “I wanted to avoid serving as an audio platform for weird theses,” he says. “The main problem with some talk shows, even if not all – continues Parsi – is that the topic of discussion becomes the thesis of the people who are there to discuss”, while losing sight of what is actually going on.

A few days ago, Censis founder Giuseppe Di Rita spoke critically about the issue of the predominance of opinions over facts in the Italian media, on Corriere della Sera: «There are no facts that cannot be questioned: you think so, but I think the opposite is true and we are equal. There are no saints, dogmas, ordinances, laboratory research, statistical tables; The primacy of personal opinion remains.

Di Rita’s overwhelming opinion, which influences not only television and talk shows but the media in general, has emerged more clearly as a problem with the epidemic, when the scientific medical context makes it clear that the positions of the expert and those of any other columnist do not have the same authority.

Those working on talk shows say they had an initial period of confusion, identifying useful guests to talk about what was going on: In newsrooms, there were very few virologists known, and in any case it was not clear if they were. Available to talk on TV. After a certain amount of research and persuasion, and after first appearing on radio shows, in a short time a group of diligent talkative virologists had established themselves, each more specifically associated with some broadcast.

Many people have complained about excessive media exposure to virologists, accused in some cases of being televised during television times and in ways that in the long run have damaged their professional credibility. Among those who decided to systematically refuse to participate in talk shows was Andrea Guri, director of the infectious diseases department at the Milan Polyclinic. Even today, he has declined many invitations and is sometimes accused of failing in his duty to disclose. “At the most, it is my duty to report, and to give accurate data and information,” says Gorey. “Opinions are given there, I’m not a reviewer: clinicians have to be very loyal to scientific data, and that’s not an opinion.”

According to Gurry, there is a misunderstanding regarding talk shows as places where information is given, and this would cause a series of problems in the way the audience perceives things being said: “At first I participated in interviews on inside news shows, because I thought it was It is appropriate to provide information to the institutional and technical roles. This is where the information is given, and the talk shows do something else.”

Chemist and science writer Dario Bressanini also expressed a similar position, says on twitter A call was received in a broadcast a few months ago: “The mistake we, the audience, make is to view talk shows as information. They are not. It is entertainment disguised as information.” And again: “Providing false information knowing that it is false does not mean pluralism.”

Vittorio Emmanuel Barsi thinks that it is still important for a professor like him not to escape public debate, when it comes to topics on which he is an expert: “The question that can be asked is whether conversations are the place of public debate. Sure, they put themselves at greater risk of playing down and showing off, but some still manage to take the information seriously.”

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