The documentary “Viaggio senza ritorno” (journey with no turning back) was screened on November 13th at Palazzo delle Stelline in Milan. Hosted by the EU Parliament Representation Office and organized by Villa Vigoni, the event “Domenico Quirico: L’Ultimo Europeo?” was supported by La Stampa and the youth associations European Generation, Civetta, Associazione Italiana Giovani per l’UNESCO and Culturit. Domenico Quirico, reporter of La Stampa and past war correspondent starring the short film, was guest speaker at the event together with the director Paolo Gonella.
Journalism and communicative techniques have changed over the past years. On the wave of transformation brought by the digital development, the role of journalists is what should remain unchanged. Journalists carry out the task of telling real-world stories. The way and the timing of the narration can mean people’s life or death. In the case of the Rwandan genocide, a louder voice of the press could have saved millions of lives. Journalists, more evidently war correspondents, bear such ethical responsibility. Indifference is a choice which can turn into a burden on people’s destiny.
In journalism, story-telling is a duty but also a right. By taking a stand on sensitive issues or by revealing undisclosable facts, journalists are vulnerable. In the words of Mr. Quirico, who was interviewed in the documentary, “a journalist is like an ant”. They risk being squashed at any time, as much as any other ant. Such a threat constrains journalists’ freedom and right of expression.
The speed of the digital world is another limiting obstacle. Journalists are required to keep up the pace of information flows. Data accumulation and overloading is transforming communication techniques as well as the way people select and retain what they learn. Readers ask for ready-made information, easy to understand and to use. As their life becomes more and more fast-paced and busy, they are not willing or able to spend too much time on reading newspapers neither on appreciating complete and long analysis on real-world facts. As a response to this trend, journalists have started telling stories “by hearsay”. Most of them do not have direct experience of the fact they describe. These narrations cannot convey feelings and perceptions which are worth to be told and read; those which are entitled to become memory. Memory works “by reduction” not “by accumulation”. It can be described as a selective mechanism to distinguish shallow events, which are easily forgotten, from those which touch individual sensitivity cannot be ignored and can become a meaningful story. In this sense, memory is not data. It is not conceived to be accumulated.
At this point, one may wonder: where is Europe in this story?
At first glance, journalistic freedom seems currently under threat across European member states, as suggested by recent news such as the murder of the Maltese anti-corruption activist and journalist, or the insults and attacks to national newspapers and reporters by populist and nationalistic governments. This is only one small aspect reconnecting the EU with the short-film.
Matteo Scotto, moderating the debate following the film screening, stated that the lessons emerging from the documentary are also messages to awaken people’s European spirit and to rethink the challenges of the European Union. Through their questions to Mr. Quirico, the representatives of the youth associations also marked the link with European issues: are European communicative tools powerless, as much as those of journalists, in the digital era? How can young European generations pass on European values and memory if they did not live the time when these values took shape after two world wars?
Replying to these questions, Mr. Quirico started by acknowledging that the word “Europe” is never mentioned in the film. In the documentary as in geopolitical balances, Europe is irrelevant. In today’s world dominated by the law of the jungle, power and strength are the only relevant elements. Terrorism, nationalism and populism are rejecting what the European Union and its citizens represent, rejecting the values on which the European Union is based upon. This is causing the death of diplomacy, weakening cooperation and dialogue among countries, thus leaving the EU even more powerless.
As remarked by the director of the European Parliament in Milan, Bruno Marasà, the European Union has brought more than 70 years of peace. However, this fact is not enough anymore to maintain consensus and to save the project from its collapse. According to Mr. Quirico, a new one is the message to be delivered to convince people that the EU has reason to exist and to be supported: protection of the rights of the “abstract human”. Opposing extremist forces base their propaganda on the protection of the “pure man”. In order to be accepted in the community, claim for their rights or, indeed, survive, the latter must satisfy specific individual criteria and embrace a common, often incontestable, ideal such as God or national supremacy. On the other hand, the “abstract men” enjoy their rights as such. Being the inventor of rights for all, ensuring human protection regardless culture, beliefs, origin, wealth or economic status is the merit that can be attributed and should be recognized to the EU. This is the communicative strategy which can turn out to be winning against the attacks threatening the EU and its founding principles.
The way of telling this story is important as much as the content. If journalists do not manage to capture the attention of the public, they are losing their “narrative battle”. It is time for them to research new writing strategies in the attempt to adjust to the current fast-paced world. May this mean to abandon the standard writing rules for a fluid writing such as the stream of consciousness once experimented by James Joyce?
Extreme narrative is not necessarily what is needed to engage readers or to add new value to journalism. The trick may simply be the ability of catching and perceiving the essence of events, thus distinguishing what is valuable from what is shallow “hearsay”. Communicating EU values and raising awareness are clear challenges. For an effective narration, European citizens should keep in mind that they are “microscopic heirs” of the European history, not of its rhetoric but of its essence.