There is an ever growing protest in Italy against Sky Italia’s decision to exclude from its digital TV package Current TV, the TV channel and website founded by Al Gore in 2005 which is famous for hosting alternative news video content compiled by viewers.
The protest campaign was launched on the Current website on a page which invites all supporters to send emails to Tom Mockeridge, managing director of Sky Italia, demanding a reversal of the decision to close the channel. In the space of a few days the protest spread on Facebook, Twitter and many online and offline magazines, involving an ever growing number of citizens concerned that there might be ideological reasons behind Sky’s decision.
In fact, according to Current TV’s top management, failure to renew the contract may indeed be connected to reasons of a political nature. Current’s mission might be in opposition to the “ideological agenda” of News Corporation, the international group which seeks political power in whatever country it operates in. This is what Al gore stated in a recent interview with the Guardian, in which the former US presidential candidate accused News Corp of “an abuse of power”. According to Gore, the reason behind the decision to close Current TV is to be found in the hiring of Keith Olbermann, a US left-leaning commentator often critical of News Corp, who has been invited to present one of the channel’s new programmes.
Referring more directly to the Italian case, Gore argued that Current TV’s position, which has often been critical of the Italian government and of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (reaching its highest level with “Citizen Berlusconi” a documentary about the power of the media in Italy), would clash with the strategy plans of Murdoch, whose aim is to ingratiate his company with the Italian government in order to gain advantage in negotiations for space on Italian digital terrestrial television.
Al Gore also presented this idea on Italian TV on the programme “Annozero” with Michele Santoro, the well-known linkman who had already been a guest of Current TV itself on the occasion of the programme “Rai per una notte”, a media protest event against the suspension of his show “Annozero” by the Italian public television corporation. According to Current’s top management the collaboration with Michele Santoro, well-known as an enemy of the Italian Prime Minister, adds a further point to the idea that the closing of Current TV is a “gift” for Silvio Berlusconi.
In answer to this accusation, Sky stated that the only reasons behind the decision are of a commercial nature. The satellite television broadcaster declared that the contract signed with Current in 2008 when it was included in Sky’s package, provided for automatic renewal if the channel reached its objective of an average of 4,500 viewers daily, which it failed to do. Therefore they say the decision was taken in view of the fact that in addition to failing to reach the necessary number of viewers, Current’s share also fell by 20% in the first quarter of 2011 compared to 2010.
However, according to Current, viewing figures are increasing. They say that the 2010 result was inaccurate primarily due to “Rai per una notte”. The importance of the media event created an anomalous peak in viewing figures for Current, thus giving inaccurate total viewing figures for the first quarter of 2010, in comparison to the fall registered in 2011. If this anomaly is taken out of the equation, however, the share data seems to be on the increase.
In any event, after the first protests it appears that Sky made a proposal to Current for the renewal of the contract, but that this was not accepted. In fact, the satellite broadcaster is said to have proposed to Current a contract offering a 70% cut on the previous one. However, Sky maintains that Current had asked for double compared to the agreement signed 3 years previously.
For now the agreement between Current and Sky seems to have turned into a data war measured with different criteria and not entirely transparent economic proposals. Internet commentators are divided into those who are convinced about the ideological motivations and those who find the idea of an alliance between the two rivals Murdoch and Berlusconi to be implausible.
However, the case of Current has brought fresh International attention to the Italian media situation.