Theater of Cruelty

Anyone can make news

Hacked Transmissions
MEDIA / Do the media maintain social and societal conditions, or are they a tool for change?


Alessandra Renzi has explored the controversial potential of the media as a tool for societal change. She does so from different perspectives with examples from recent dramatic events, where the media have shaped Italian society. With Renzi's research methodology, where thorough theoretical analysis is intertwined with first-hand experiences, the book becomes an important contribution to contemporary media theory.

Hacked Transmissions provides insight into – and a historical overview of – Italian media after 1968 and constitutes a comprehensive framework for understanding the media picture, a good starting point for an informed and responsible approach to how the world should move forward after covid-19 pandemic.

A few days after the first covid-19 patient was diagnosed in Italy, another tragic event occurred. IN Napoli a 16-year-old boy was shot and killed by a 23-year-old soldier in civilian clothes. The soldier was sitting in a car when the 16-year-old drove past on a moped brandishing a gun and tried to steal his watch. The soldier fired three shots, and the 16-year-old died of his injuries shortly afterwards.

When the 16-year-old's family heard about the death, the family members and neighbors searched the emergency room, so the patients there were forced to go to other wards and hospitals. The family also fired shots in front of police headquarters. The investigation will show whether the 16-year-old's gun was made of plastic (says the family) or of metal (says the police), but the first TV pictures from the battered emergency room say that we have lost the feeling of how to live together. What should we think about a society where not all residents think that the emergency room is for everyone? Is it then a society at all?

Activism in the media

Seen in this perspective, the book's premise is very relevant. Social media is often defined by its unique ability to connect many individuals who share large amounts of information as part of participating in the public debate. In many cases, social media has made it possible to achieve major mobilizations and activism in a very short time. But facilitating political mobilization is not the same as strengthening the sense of community, it is something traditional media – when used for activism purposes – are able to do.

What should we think about a society where not all inhabitants think that the emergency room exists
for all?

Renzi is interested in a special Italian form, street TV or so-called micro-stations. These are small TV stations that broadcast on UHF frequencies that cannot be used by commercial channels. A national network of stations such as Volante TV, SpegnilaTV, TeleAut, AntTV, OrfeoTv and so on was formed in 2002 and was maintained until Italy switched to digital broadcasting in 2010. Some of the micro-stations survived the transition, and the researcher's interest persisted through her involvement in The TV channel Insu tv in Naples.

The author's findings contradict the view of social media as a tool that enables more democratic communication compared to traditional broadcasting. In several examples, Renzi shows how the interaction with "activist" broadcast media centered around the process of co-production, which fostered a sense of belonging and unity.

The interpersonal connections that were created below process with making traditional media features, was crucial to activism more than the fact that the stations reported on protests and incidents.

Rampaged Emergency Room. Photo: Corriere Adriatico

Anyone can make news

After the disappearance of the TV antennas, there was less need to work with common formats, and people were drawn in different directions with parallel projects: Two that stand out in particular are the collaborative documentaries Genuine Clandestino (The Genuine Clandestine, 2011) and live documentaries – short clips with a certain news value that are ignored by established media (e.g. Lampedusa next stop, 2011). These projects developed as part of a new media infrastructure there distribution became important.

Several features of this new infrastructure, such as the algorithms that keep users within their networks of friendships and media consumption habits, and the simple solutions of the new technology, which allow individuals to create features themselves, contribute to what Renzi calls «a new media landscape of small devices or individuals activists ».

When an individual can use a smartphone or camera to produce a video, post it on their own YouTube channel and market it on their social networks, the lengthy production processes for broadcast-based TV stations become superfluous.

Social structures

The book enables a better understanding of activist media and puts the peculiarities of the media infrastructure in a new light. TelestreetThe network was developed as a direct contrast to the television network owned by Silvio Berlusconi, but it stems from the antagonism towards the rigid social structures we can thank the Italian Communist Party and the Catholic Church for.

The author also provides a rare insight into Italian political and media theory as well as contemporary philosophy: From "autonomy" and the epic work of the Italian media theorist Franco 'Bifo' Berardi, one of the founders of Collettivo A / Traverso, the forerunner of Radio Alice, to autonomous feminists who Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Leopoldina Fortunati and Silvia Federici, with their conceptualization of reproductive care and efficient labor as integrated in the reproduction of capitalism, and also communication and language as important elements in social reproduction.

Melita Zajc
Melita Zajc
Zajc is a media writer, researcher and film critic. She lives and works in Slovenia, Italy and Africa.

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