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When Reality TV Meets Humanitarian Action in Italy

RAI 1, the flagship television channel of the national public service broadcaster and the most watched channel in Italy, is developing a humanitarian aid show in reality form. The first episode is planned to be broadcast next 4 December 2013.

“The Mission”, which is presented as a social experience, will show eight celebrities over two weeks working for the Italian NGO Intersos in refugee camps in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali. All of this will take place under the supervision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

On the blog African Voices, Carlo Catteneo explained more about the premise of the show in a post entitled  “Mission” by RAI 1. A time bomb?:

The goal of RAI would be to propose, through this social experiment, as a means of advertising the cause of the most excluded and the engagement of humanitarian workers in order to create greater awareness in the audience. From the rumors collected production will not be focused on the suffering and desperation of refugees but rather on the positive and concrete commitment of humanitarian workers on the stories of refugees and the reasons for fleeing from their native countries. Each episode of The Mission will be introduced by an accurate explanation of the social, historical, political and cultural development of each country visited in order to offer the public with adequate information and to avoid the spectacularization of refugees. Laura Lucci, head of UNHCR Italy ensures that they are focusing on a program of information. The presence of UNHCR will ensure that they are only collected the stories of refugees volunteers standing up supervisor of the right of privacy and personal freedom of each individual. The increase of awareness and private story telling by refugees will help, according intentions of the promoters, to make public opinion more open and sensible on issues such as illegal immigration and the reasons that lead to the desperate search of a better life through the Mediterranean.

Cattaneo also published a copy of the official authorisation to shoot the programme from the DRC

ministry-of-culture_authorization-for-filming_09-07-20132

 

Many Italians – whether humanitarian or not – have already begun to criticise the programme several months before it is to be broadcast. There is intense debate on the Internet. An online petition [it] asking for the programme not be be broadcast has already been signed by more than 91,000 people. They agree that the show plays with the lives of the refugees, and downplays the consequences of conflicts.

The site Afriqinfos [fr] argued that the world of reality TV is about to cross another line by going to refugee camps in Africa [fr]:

Change.org et Activism.org ont lancé chacun une pétition visant à annuler la mise en place de The Mission : « ça vous dirait de voir votre mère, qui a survécu à des violences inimaginables, être tournée en ridicule comme comparse d’un reality show ? » argumente la première organisation.

Change.org and Activism.org have each launched a petition to cancel the broadcasting of The Mission: “How would you like to see your mother, who has survived unimaginable violence, becoming an object of ridicule as an extra on a reality TV show?” argues the first of these organisations.

In addition to the recurrent criticisms, notably relating to the celebrities’ wages for the show [it], another argument against this show is that the celebrities chosen are second-class, B-listers [it] or attempting a comeback.

As zaccunu09 writes in the article Sfiga Africa: ci mancava Albano [it] (Poor Africa: Albano on top of everything else) of l'Espresso magazine [editor's note: Albano is an Italian singer who was popular in the 1970s and 80s]:

Che bella idea questa di Leone,figlio dell'ex Presidente della Repubblica,ed è superfluo dire perché oggi si trova a quel posto !, forte di un'autorità che non sappiamo bene da dove venga ,ha organizzato questa ridicola messinscena con personaggi che hanno un seguito da ridere se non fosse per la Rai che continua a farli apparire sulla scena televisiva,il più delle volte a sproposito. Albano, ci basta la presunzione e l'atteggiamento malandrino;il rampollo ruspante di casa Savoia,che non si sa a che titolo calca la scena Rai e con quali meriti se non una eredità che più scalcinata ed inquietante non poteva essere; Barale, ma esiste veramente? ,Cocuzza per più cocuzza non poteva essere,forse ho dimenticato qualcuno ma sicuramente sarà all'altezza degli altri. VIVA LA RAI ………

What a great idea from Leone – son of the ex-President of the Republic [Giovanni Leone] – and we don't need to ask how he's got that job today [director of RAI 1][it]! Relying on his authority from no one knows where, he has organised this farce with personalities who would no longer exist in the public sphere if RAI didn't take care of their media appearances by exhibiting them inappropriately as often as possible. We've had enough of Al Bano‘s complacency and mischief, and as for the direct descendant of the House of Savoy, we don't know how or why he is shown on RAI if not solely because of a legacy which could not be more pathetic and disturbing. Barale, does she even really exist? Cocuzza [the name of a RAI personality which also means thoughtless], you can't get any more thoughtless, I might have forgotten someone [it], but no doubt they will be at the same level as the others. LONG LIVE RAI……..

At Articolotre.com, Albano addressed some of these criticisms:

Io difendo questo programma, e non capisco davvero cosa ci vediate di male: ce l'avete con me? Non capisco perché si parli di reality quando si tratta di realtà. Non sarebbe stato uno spettacolo, ma un'indagine, un'occasione per accendere i riflettori sulla gente che soffre. A me piaceva proprio l'idea di andare in un luogo in cui le persone sono abbandonate. Io voglio accendere qual faro, far vedere cosa succede. Continuano a morire dappertutto, ma se non proviamo ad accendere le luci che succederà?

I defend this programme, and I don't really understand what you see as negative: do you have a problem with me? I don't understand why we are talking about reality TV when this is about reality. It won't be a spectacle, but an investigation, an opportunity to highlight the issue of these people who are suffering. Personally, I really liked the idea of going to a place where people have been abandoned. I want to shine a light on the problem, to see what is happening. People are continuing to die everywhere, but if we don't highlight the problems, what will happen?

While with Invisible Children's Stop Kony 2012 campaign, a great majority of African comments were negative, this time they seem to give a more nuanced view, particularly on Facebook [fr]:

Aragone Diger : Sortir les réfugiés de l'ombre, c'est aussi montrer les tares de la guerre et ainsi conscientiser les populations de pays impliqués dans les guerres surtout en Afrique.

Aragone Diger: Bringing refugees out of the shadows also means showing the destruction of war, and making people living in the countries affected, especially in Africa, more aware.

Renaud-Désiré Essoh Lath: Moi j'aime ça montre que dans la vie y'a pas que Kardashians et y'a des problèmes plus sérieux !!

Renaud-Désiré Essoh Lath: Personally, I like that it shows that there is more to life than the Kardashians and that there are more serious issues!!

Following rumours that the show would be cancelled, RAI published an official denial. Thanks to the debate it has started, “The Mission” has benefited from publicity that just can't be bought.

Abdoulaye Bah and Antonella Sinopoli contributed to this article

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