Italy’s First Mass Online Streaming Event: Raiperunanotte

On Thursday, more than 185,000 people tuned into the online streaming of Raiperunanotte, a special edition of Annozero, a public TV program shut down for a few weeks by the government of Silvio Berlusconi.

Servers were on the point of melting down, buffering capacities were stretched to the limit.

The official website counted over 125,000 viewers, meanwhile Repubblica.it, one of Italy’s leading news websites registered 60,000 viewers, which is close to its bandwidth capacity. Two hundred piazzas all around Italy had big screens setup.

Among others, Al Gore’s CurrentTV chipped in, airing the program AND co-sponsoring it.

The special event took place at the PalaDozza stadium in Bologna, which was setup as a TV studio for the occasion.

All in all, it was a massive online effort: from constant Twitter and Facebook updates to the many special guests (Roberto Benigni being one of the many) that showed up in person or on camera to demonstrate their solidarity to journalist-host Michele Santoro, a frequent target of Berlusconi’s wrath.

(Videoclip of the first few minutes of the show, started off with a back-to-back video of Mussolini and Berlusconi talking in front of a crowd)

The program’s theme was mostly about freedom of speech, which is dangerously on the verge of being suffocated by the present government.

I should correct myself.

In Italy freedom of speech is not really at stake. What is at stake is the chance to be heard and the possibility of hearing multiple voices.

What good is freedom of speech if all the major media outlets are in the hands of one businessman, who also happens to be the head of the government? That same government that has a say on every political decision taken within public television, within committees and official authorities that regulate and decide what programs can be aired and which ones can’t.

Freedom of speech ceases to exist when it becomes a mere technicality to be respected only because that’s what’s written in the Constitution.

Public television is just that – public. It is of the public and for the public. But Berlusconi assumes that since he won the last elections (his party got 37 percent of votes in 2008, and his coalition received 46.8 percent), he has the sovereign right to dictate whatever he wants to see on TV, and that is to have only his version of news and events showed. He demands his requests be met, and what is really sad is that there are many people in important decisional positions that will give him anything he wants, like shutting down unfavorable TV programs and laying off journalists who dare criticize him.

The sad truth is that freedom of speech would be alive and well if certain people had stood up against Berlusconi. Instead, they handed him a big chunk of the country, humiliated themselves and denied the majority of Italians a serious public television, where freedom of speech should always be a value.

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