What is Wrong With Italian Reality TV?

The show hasn’t been broadcasted yet, but aid workers, non profit volunteers and some viewers from all over the Italy have already launched two petitions to prevent the airing of a new reality show, “Mission,” in which eight Italian celebrities embark on a mission to help aid workers in the refugee camps of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali.

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National public television channel, Rai, in partnership with the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and the NGO Intersos, are bankrolling the show. “During the show there will be no game elements,” assures Rai in a press release, “… while in the studio there will be in-depth analysis about refugee themes and commentaries from those who have lived inside a refugee camp for a long period of time.”

As far as we know the premiere episode was shot in South Sudan last year–that news slipped out when Michele Cucuzza (in picture above with an unidentified man), one of the participants told a tabloid about the “fear” of being there and the risk of getting ebola–and is scheduled to be aired December 4 and  11 on the Rai Uno channel.

“It’s poverty pornography,” complains the NGO’s and the journalists who cover human rights issues.

“No, we’re bringing the reality of refugee camps to prime time so as to make it known to the general public,” replied Marco Rotelli, secretary-general of Intersos, which after a week of debate online finally broke the silence with a press realease to explain their endorsement and participation in the program. “We are afraid to watch pain slammed on prime time, with exploitation of stories and people,” adds Christopher Hein of the Italian Council for Refugees to the non profit agency Redattore Sociale.

Newsmagazine Espresso titled their story “Africa sfigata, ci mancava Al Bano,” stressing that bringing celebrities to the African continent only adds complicates the lives of the people the program and its participants claim to help.

“I can’t describe the shame I felt when I heard this news,” says Claudia Mocci, a young aid worker working in Chad, whose letter opposing the program has been “liked” by more than 2,000 people on Facebook in one week. “I thought about all the people I have met in the refugee camp in Goré, in Chad, and about their pleas not to be photographed, because they didn’t want to live twice the trauma of being scheduled and filmed by the police arriving in the asylum country.”

Last week the issue arrived at the Parliament, thanks to a point of order raised by the left party Sinistra, Ecologia e Libertà (Sel). The President of the Chamber of Deputies Laura Boldrini, a former UNHCR spokesperson, was already aware of the show because she had launched the idea while she was working at the UN, inspired by the Australian show “Go back“.

In a letter to the national newspaper La Repubblica, Boldrini explains that “the original goal was to make more comprehensible to the public the real condition of refugees, too often and too quickly represented as a threat for our safety. I suggested to have a look at the Australian format, in which there were common people with different ideas of asylum, not celebrities.”

The writers of the program, Tullio Camiglieri and Antonio Azzalini were also forced to defend themselves:

We have been accused of making an entertainment show of the refugee situation, but we hope to have such an entertainment, because in that way the topic will reach the general public.

More tolerant seems Davide Demichelis, author and director of the program Radici, which is instead a positive example of reporting in developing countries with the participation of  migrants who travels in their native land with the journalist. Despite the fact that he is against any kind of ‘entertainment of pain,” Demichelis believes that “we should give the show a chance and not try to stop the broadcasting with a petition.”

As for me: Since the first episode had already been filmed, I’m looking forward to reviewing it for Africa is a Country.

* A special mention to the African Voices’s Facebook page manager for the photo of the tabloid with Michele Cucuzza.