Beyond bunga-bunga: letter from Italia


This is an article by Miriam Pelusi.
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Miriam Pelusi and Behind the Spin's editor enjoying lunch in Bologna

At a time of scandals and uncertainty, citizens become engaged in active debates. So it is that live-blogging about politics and current affairs has become normal in Italy in these turbulent times.

While it’s difficult to find space on TV for ordinary people and even for journalists – social platforms allow a free exchange of opinions and allow communities to share perspectives and angles.

Surfing social network to get a grasp of what people think and their feelings around a topic is also a good exercise to discover the potential of those social platforms. The citizens’ indignation is growing online: it’s a mixture of anger, sarcasm and hope.

Real plazas and virtual plazas both have an impact. Right now, virtual plazas are becoming even more important. There is a social value on social platforms, and perhaps there are some good points in being there and using them, expecially for analysts.

Let’s take these convulsive days in Italy – a time of crisis with the long-awaited resignation of the premier – and let’s analyse the use of social networks.

On the question of press  freedom in Italy, lively discussions can be found on social media networks such as Facebook. Twitter hash-tags identify key themes:

#aeyou – quickly became the viral trending topic. It echoes the popular Brazilian song used for parties, a sign that people are waiting for the tipping point of the Italian government.

#moka – Michele Serra’s article in La Repubblica on Thursday 3rd November advises Italians to get distracted by Berlusconi by using the moka (coffee maker) law as a metaphor: if you stare at the machine waiting for the coffee, it won’t come out. While if you get distracted and think to something else, so the coffee comes out. That’s a clear similarity with Italians and their current premier, as La Repubblica explains.

#acasa – this means ‘at home’, and that’s clearly a sign of what most Italians want.

#laresadeicontithe hashtag after the vote.

#opencamera – the hidden cost of politics revealed.

#dimissioni – resignation is a key theme on Twitter comments.

#dopolaleggedistabilitàBerlusconi said he will step down as soon as the budget law passes. That’s the next awaited step.

#elezioni – an urgent call for elections runs on Twitter, tweet by tweet.

The bunga-bunga scandal has damaged the image of Italy, and companies like Ryanair are now using this to gain cheap publicity. Another company Intimissimi used the bunga-bunga scandal as a selling point for one of its products. Certainly it’s all about marketing, but the ethics should be taken into account.

While the foreign press urges his resignation, the Financial Times published a story that stands out of the crowd, ‘In the name of God, please go!’. For once, the press and the public seem to be taking the same view.

The fictional reality represented by Mr Berlusconi and used for his political propaganda has been revealed as a sham. It’s a Photoshop society with bad story-telling. But he seems to be master of his destiny until the end.

Patience must be a virtue for Italian citizens, but it’s not everlasting. Meanwhile a financial crisis and youth people unemployment is just around the corner.

But hopefully, as Bill Emmott explained in Forza, Italia, “after Berlusconi the Good Italy can be released and make the country a lot better for its 150th anniversary”. The advice for Italians is to change Italy by themselves – working collectively but also in their communities.

Comments

  1. Erica Machado says:

    I agree with you that social media is a quite new way of people communication. Finally, it seems that we can have established the two-way communication that is conceptualized by James Grunig: the audience can hear and also speak up about different subjects.

    I also would like to point out one matter that really calls my attention. It was about 5 or even 10 years ago that Berlusconi was elected the president, having the Television industry, which he owns, behind him. I remember the Brazilian media industry saying that Berlusconi was supported by his powerful media machine.

    He could concentrate efforts in order to keep the good reputation of his government. After less than one decade, the powerful governor, that also owns a football team and other business, sees the decline of his empire and he is forced by the public opinion to give up the government.

    It is weird and a breakthrough movement, where the king of Italian media is put down by the social media??!! Is it a democracy ? But, in fact who are the people that are making the revolution. Do they really belong to the lower classes of society or they are still the same dominant class that have power and access of these new ways of communication?

    I like your article and believe that social media can be an interested and powerful tool to make changes and revolution in a society. However, we can’t leave behind the real idea that always would be some powerful influence that supports and encourages people and society to debate and fight for an ideal. This support would come from which part of society?

  2. Miriam Pelusi says:

    Thanks for your comment, Erica. As you suggested, Grunig and Hunt’s two-way symmetric model declined in social media conversations represents an interesting angle of how a dominant model of PR can be a paradigm also in social media. As for what you asked, ideally the support for a change has to come from different parts of society, although some parts are more influencial than others in achieving common goals. These days a more active role of civic society seems facilitated by new technologies. Real plazas and virtual plazas are often complementary, but they still need to be in the media spotlight to gain the attention of a wider audience.
    The role of social media platforms in democracy and in absence of democracy, needs to be explored – as recent examples in the world show – the Arab Spring, los indignados, the Occupy protests, and the indignation in Italy as well. But a sense of indignation or even a feeling of revolution already existed; social media networks are channels and allow people to speak their mind freely.
    Let’s see Italy. I’ve briefly analysed the use of social media, in particular twitter, around the top story in Italy in this period – the long-awaited resignation of the premier and the formation of the new government; six days of a lively collective discussion on social media platforms. Citizens, bloggers, journalists while reporting their views on social networks contribute to the information system, their comments bring live coverage, and somehow they become the media – everyone is the media. This is a turning point in citizen journalism and in citizens mobilisation. And it is particularly tangible in Italy, where the conflict of interest has been a strong problem and has influenced the media system. In this context social network can be an alternative channel, see for example their active use in recent local elections and referendum against nuclear power, privatisation of water supplies and legal impediment.
    Mr Berlusconi has been in politics for seventeen years; Roberto Saviano repeated it clearly on The Guardian on November 11th 2011 – Silvio Berlusconi has always acted in his own – not Italy’s – interests. As for your concern about the former premier resignation, I’d cite what Mario Calabresi reported on BBC News on the 17th November, “Italian politics has had to take a step back and give way to a tecnical expert because of popular indignation and pressure from the financial markets.”
    It’s not only about the Italian complex identity and its political structure. Part of the problem is the unreal representation of the reality; it’s been a fairy tale constructed in many years also through its media power. Many examples could be cited to illustrate and uncover the false Italian dream and an instrumental and persuasive use of media power: ‘reassuring’ during problems (ex. earthquake in L’Aquila, immigration in Lampedusa, financial crisis etc.); ‘repairing’ during his scandals; ‘offensive’ towards oppositon (see the so-called ‘musliding machine’). He often portayed himself as the Bel Paese’s savior able to rescue the country and solve problems. As explained by The Economist in ‘The Berlusconisation of Italy’ on April 30th 2009, ‘Every Italian under 30 has grown to political maturity in a country where Mr Berlusconi and his family control half the television output, one of four national newspapers, one of two news magazines and the biggest publishing house.’ The documentary film ‘Il corpo delle donne’ (‘Women’s bodies’ – English version on the blog) made in 2009 by Lorella Zanardo, Marco Malfi Chindemi and Cesare Cantù – shows that the representation of women’s bodies on television is a concern in Italy, and more discussion is needed. The effects of berlusconism and the imagery of twenty years have not ended with the resignation of Berlusconi, they still have an impact. But there is a different Italy which does not appear but resist, active debates towards a noisy videocracy.

  3. Miriam Pelusi says:

    As the transition period has been completed, I can now give a final update on the hashtags:
    #rimontiamo: this is the anagram of Mario Monti, the new premier. It’s been created by the semiotician Stefano Bartezzaghi and briefly hits the headlines; it clearly marks a sense of unity and hope for Italians.
    #finecorsa: that’s the end of the political mandate of Berlusconi.
    #maipiù – never ever. The information website ‘Valigia Blu’ launched this hashtag and people listed what they think should not be done again (eg. Never ever false promises, conflict of interests, ad personam laws, censorship laws for the information system as the ‘Editto Bulgaro’; etc.)
    #dadomani: people say on twitter what they think it should be done starting from the day after the resignation. It’s again a clear mark that an era ends.
    #doposilvio: after Silvio Berlusconi, the hope of a new political, economic and cultural era.
    #oramonti: now Monti – it’s the time of Mario Monti and his new government.
    #montifacts: it’s a joke on the web about Monti’s qualities, while waiting for the new actions people imagine its programme. It already happened in spring during the election of Pisapia, current mayor of Milan. It’s an ironic wave which runs through social networks aimed at contrasting some politicians’statements during the political campaign.
    #ministri: the new government is unveiled (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/16/italy-unveils-government-technocrats)
    #napolitano: the role of the President Napolitano has been crucial, he’s been a point of reference for the country, enabling cohesion and unity. He oversaw a rapid transition.
    #monti and #nuovogoverno: ears and eyes are on the new government, Mario Monti in primis.
    #1994to2011: a collective account of what people have done in their life during the Berlusconi period in politics.
    As it can be seen the feelings and thoughts of the collective discussion on twitter are undercovered by analysing the trending topic in chronological order; they reflect part of what happened in Italy. Phases are different: from the euphoria to the anxious wait, from worried memories to hopeful expectations mixed with sceptical criticism. Key words that mark a time of transition for a European country. New words for a new period, hopefully. And some questions arise: what will be the influence of Berlusconi now? Will there be a media reform in Italy (http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2011/11/2011111816039305209.html)? With the new government, will the Italian image change? Image undepins reputation and credibility, and that matters for the ‘Good Italy’, both in Italy and abroad. Time will give an answer, and a critical eye on social network platforms as a complementary news source will be a god source, too.

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