Government crisis ignites the Web

The news of Italian PM Romano Prodi’s resignation and the government crisis in Italy following yesterday’s Senate’s vote on foreign policy has had great resonance on the Web both among citizens and party officials. Thousands of angry citizens have turned to the Web to express their discontent with the two dissidents from the extreme Left whose vote has caused the resignation of Prodi’s coalition, flooding online newspapers’ discussion forums and blogs with their comments. What is perhaps more striking is that political parties have also turned to the Web to make statements to reach the wider public: Rifondazione Comunista has published on its Website a press release where the party condemns the vote of its party member who has voted against his own coalition; furthermore, it announces the opening of an online forum in the next few days as a public space for discussion and for providing party supporters with reassurances on the party’s mission and policy. Participatory democracy in action?

new media and the future of news

In yesterday’s weekly seminar at the Annenberg Center for Communication, Prof. Jay T. Harris, Chair in Journalism and Democracy at USC, raised several points of interest on the current crises of journalism and the future of news. He illustrated how the digitization of news, the new devices and the new patterns of information acquisition have led to the collapse of the 20th century model of journalism. Harris argues that the change cannot simply be seen as technology driven, but as the result of the choices that humans and news corporations make. The most profound impact of the use of new media in journalism is on public discourse and as such it raises a series of interesting research questions: have the new forms of journalism (in the form of online news, blogging, discussion forums and citizens’ journalism) produced an increase in the number and diversity of voices being heard? How will new forms of journalism, such as blogging, evolve – are they here to stay or will they wither away? How effective (and how reliable) are they? Do they fulfill the same functions in society as old media? Are they capable of serving the public interest, for example by giving voice to the powerless and by acting as government watchdog? And I add: can they bring about political change? This was a very timely and refreshing talk which provided a critical analysis of current developments amidst the enthusiasm for new media and the rise of a participatory culture.

YouTube enters Italian politics

Italian Minister Antonio Di Pietro from the left-coalition party ‘Italia dei Valori’ is the first Italian politician to make use of YouTube as a tool for political communication. He has posted a video where he reports on this week’s Council of Ministers’ session, and announces this vlog will be followed by weekly posts “in order to achieve complete transparency on the decisions taken in each of the Council’s sessions”. Judging from the number of views (33,000 approx. in less than two days) and from the comments left, this initiative is proving to be a successful move to engage people in the political process (or at least to engage those people who are looking to be engaged — and looking online). Di Pietro is one of the few Italian politicians who has not abandoned his blog once the elections were over (for a review of the Italian political blogosphere see “Apri il Blog e Scappa” [“Open a Blog and then Run Away”], in L’Espresso 12/12/2006).