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  • Proposals for a Television Open to Reality and Democracy
  • Arturo Gismondi and Cesare Zavattini
    Translated by Giorgio Bertellini and Courtney Ritter

What can be done to fully reveal television’s cultural potential?

Cesare Zavattini (CZ):

Criticism. And I don’t mean so much newspaper columns, or a public complaint when something doesn’t go as it should. While this is also necessary, what I really mean is a continuous discussion by everyone—political parties, unions, newspapers, intellectuals, and politicians. Television is the world, it is how Italy expresses itself. On a daily basis, politics holds the attention of members of the press (and not just politicians), who in response are all involved in creating, correcting, and clarifying public opinion. Television deserves the same attention because it is an exquisitely political act in the highest sense of the word. I would say that newspapers have not yet fully understood the meaning and the effects of the television phenomenon, and they struggle to adapt to the present because they dedicate too little attention to it.

We must therefore realize that television has changed the dimensions of the world and of humanity. The new medium has the feel and the reach of a great spatial conquest. It is necessary to come to terms with this reality that has dramatically expanded the world’s boundaries. Those who do not will end up becoming unusual and picturesque subjects in some sort of dystopian science-fiction story.

Television should be given all the attention it deserves. Public opinion should incessantly engage in discussing the medium to make it adapt to the reality of the country, to the real relationships between the political, social, and cultural forces that regularly clash on the Italian and world stage.

It is necessary to augment its informative quality. That certainly does not mean expanding the news as it stands today, since it is oftentimes marred by partisanship. Instead, we must open television up to our great human dilemmas and philosophical debates. Television should connect to as many events as possible because every connection means the direct—“physical,” I would even say—participation of [End Page 7] the individual with all that is happening in the world. And this is democracy. Television should be, in other words, a medium through which the popular classes exercise their control over and participation in all aspects of human life. It therefore must be present … in the halls where justice is administered “in the name of the people.” … Television should be present in the parliament when politicians discuss topics of general interest so that citizens have the possibility to see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears how their representatives conduct themselves. It should be present at the negotiating table between labor unions and businessmen; it should be present wherever the social forces that give life to the national economy collide, where strikes occur, both in front of and inside the factories.

… Not long ago I had put forward a proposal for a television program that would display the result of this process of democratization. In its design, the political parties would use their assigned time to develop and realize a fully researched program in full compliance with the law. … I am convinced that this will happen, and it will seem less revolutionary than it appears now. Television can make an immeasurable contribution to the polemical expression of facts and ideas, to oppositional views and representation—which is one of democracy’s essential components. …


What is the fundamental problem today in the relationship between culture and television?


It is the freedom to include every cultural perspective, from appealing entertainment shows to morally responsible educational programs. Often when one speaks of letting culture express itself through television, one only speaks of promoting the most brilliant ideas and the best shows. Instead, in my opinion, it is about increasing the variety of topics and fostering the exchange of ideas, which would therefore make television democratic. To broaden the parameters of freedom means to allow each idea to enter, circulate liberally, and find its own form of expression; to make it entertaining, this is what it means to let culture enter television. It...


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