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If You Despise the BBC, You Will Really Enjoy Rai!

21/07/2015 15:22 BST | Updated 20/07/2016 10:59 BST

I left the Corporation five years ago, so I no longer have to deal with the dismal staff morale, the daily mortifying round of patronising bilge from overpaid bosses, the slow erosion of standards and ambition. Still, every time I talk to former colleagues or read about the gleeful plans this government has in store for its dismantling, my heart breaks all over again.

I fell in love with the Beeb like a late 19th century European immigrant might have fallen in love with the statue of Liberty: at first sight, and with a devotion that spoke more of the horrors of home than of the delights of the new found land.

At home I had left Rai, the Italian state broadcaster - imagine pre-regime change Libyan state TV but with a lot more swimsuit competitions than camel races. The promised land turned out to be nearly a decade of freelance half-life followed by a few short years of a proper job before they started getting rid of everyone again. But the insecurity, the overwork and antisocial hours hardly mattered compared to the pride of working for a global cultural and journalistic brand.

I knew first hand what happens when a state broadcaster loses its way, its mission and its moral authority: it rarely gets them back. Rai did not, admittedly, get off to the best of starts: its inaugural radio transmission featured a speech by Benito Mussolini. Yet in the post-war years and with the addition of television in the mid-50s the same Reithian spirit that inspired the BBC seeped into its programming.

Publicly funded by a licence fee, RAI saw it as its mission to educate and entertain the young Italian nation as it emerged from the rubbles of dictatorship and war, a poor and divided country still. My mother remembers Mamma Rai (we see your Auntie and we raise you a Mummy) as a wonderland of plays, educational programmes, artistic and literary discussions, sing-alongs and all round family fun.

Advertising started in 1957 as a low key extra revenue source but for the next 20 years it was kept segregated inside a ten minute segment scheduled just before children's bedtime.

The 1980's Rai's monopoly was challenged in the name of competition and consumer choice, with the enterprising Silvio Berlusconi glad-handling and arm-twisting his way to a change in broadcasting rules.

But far from leading to more variety and better quality liberalisation created to a race to the bottom between the increasingly cash-strapped Rai and Berlusconi's Mediaset.

Successive coalition governments also parcelled and distributed political control across Rai's main channels meaning that the 'news' you get from each is as partial and biased as what you'd expect from different British newspapers titles.

Berlusconi's political decline did not stop Rai's quality tailspin. Ads now interrupt every programme every few minutes. Instead of inspiring creativity and critical thought Rai is content to follow Mediaset's example and simply reflect mediocrity and lack of imagination. This also translates in rampant sexism, covert racism and casual homophobia.

The only women allowed on Italian TV - public as well as private - are young, semi-naked and mainly mute showgirls, dancing, simpering, and generally acting as 'helpers' to male programme presenters.

Sit-coms, variety shows, talk shows are predominantly and blindingly white. The increasingly diverse ethic population is only ever given representation in the news - as the subject matter of hysterical reports about black, foreign or immigrant criminals.

And while the nation fails to agree even on civil partnership, Rai is faithfully mirrors widespread homophobia without any censure even in its few remaining high-brow programmes. Guests on a programme devoted to the Strega Literary Prize recently mused as to whether Elena Ferrante, a writer whose real identity is unknown, may be a woman, a man or 'a gay'.

Yes, the BBC is top heavy and has made some bewilderingly bad choices, mainly due to atrocious management and dismal oversight from its clownish Trust. It may well be time to tinker with the way it is funded, given the staggering arrays of platforms you can now consume output from.

But vandalising the very concept of a public service broadcasting - with its mission to be creative, inclusive, intellectually curious and journalistically challenging - doesn't get you a smaller, leaner BBC. It gets you Rai - a still expensive, monolithic structure that is very much less than the sum of its parts.