RealTime IT News

Italica: RAI's Pipe Dream

If there was ever justification for transforming Italy's government-financed and operated Radio, Televisione Italiana (RAI) into a private institution, it is Italica, the high-tech, high-cost Internet endeavor.

Financed in part by the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Italica's concept to expand the Italian language and culture throughout the world is, according to some experts, so far into cyberspace that it may be unreachable.

During a recent conference in Naples, RAI International President Roberto Morrioni and a twelve-member panel set out to explain and "justify" Italica to the foreign press. In typical Italian fashion, each expert had his say, turning a relatively simple introduction of this Internet Web site into a two-hour philosophy lesson on why the Italian language should be globally disbursed and why a second-generation Italian in, say, Australia, would desire to participate in mother-tongue, online university studies of Dante, the Renaissance and the Italian language.

Linked with 105 universities around the world, Italica is without a doubt the largest database of Italian history and culture on the Internet, incorporating RAI's vast news and image archives, as well as the libraries of universities throughout the peninsula. This aspect of the project, journalists concurred, has some value, even if none of the resources are currently in English.

It was the virtual campus that the foreign press viewed as RAI International's pipe-dream. Is there a need for online classes in Italian? Is there a market for it? Or is this merely another government-funded project to justify the positions of those involved?

There is growing pressure on the Italian government to rid itself of state-owned companies such as RAI and the national rail system, FS, which cost tax-payers billions of lira each year. One of the major political parties pushing for privatization is Forza Italia, headed by business tycoon Silvio Berlusconi. According to the party's platform, state monopolies have been poorly managed for years and are merely a burden for Italian citizens.

Many journalists at the Naples presentation came away with a similar feeling about Italica. Unfortunately, they were not given the opportunity to question the panel, which rushed off to avoid traffic generated by a nearby soccer game.

During a hands-on testing of Italica, however, one reporter asked: "This is really an extensive project. How many total Web pages are currently on the Net?"

"Actually," replied RAI International's press coordinator, "the site is not yet fully active. What you're testing is not online."