Riccardo Masnata

In Italy it’s never easy (as you would expect)

Italy has a reputation for being a country in which nearly everything is a little bit tougher / By Riccardo Masnata

Italy has a (well deserved) reputation for being a country in which nearly everything is a little bit tougher, and more complicated, than elsewhere. Maritime crisis communication is no exception to this “rule”, and here we will try to explain why.

First off: the environment. With nearly 7,500 kilometres of coastline, which includes two major islands (Sardinia and Sicily), and more than 55 relevant ports, the territory to cover is extensive, and the amount of time necessary to reach the place of an incident can be significant.

The country’s position, exactly in the middle of the Mediterranean, easily reachable from northern Africa, put Italy at the centre of the refugee issues, with countless, dramatic and deadly incidents that shocked the world. It took a while for other countries to realise that it wasn’t “just” an Italian problem, but that the EU as a whole needed to find feasible political solutions.

In this regard it’s important to underline that, for the vast majority of refugees, Italy wasn’t meant to be the final destination of their journey, but mainly a gateway to reach other countries in Europe. For years, those other countries were – conveniently – ignoring the situation: now they are finally facing it.

Related to the natural environment comes another factor that doesn’t help much: the stakeholder map, which is just as huge. A reform completed in July 2016 by the former Government cut the number of port authorities at a national level to 15, merging many of them: they are now called “Port Authority Systems”. Before that decision, dotted along the coast there were ports every 40-50 km competing for the same customers and businesses (for example Genoa and Savona, Venice and Trieste, Naples and Salerno).

Italy hasn’t had a Ministry of the Sea since 1993 (now industry players are starting to call for its return), and competences within the maritime sector are split between the Ministry of Infrastructures and Transports, the Ministry of the Environment and other institutions. Clashes between central government and local bodies (Regions, Cities) are frequent, and an incident, of any kind, will likely, and immediately, spark political controversies, with each part taking the chance to attack the other.

Being aware of the political landscape and constantly updating the map is crucial, as this will help in quickly identifying potential enemies and allies, and the arguments they will probably use to prove their points. Add to the mix that industry representatives/associations and maritime trade unions are numerous, and can be very vocal, if not argumentative.

The media sector is extended as well. There’s a bunch of national TV networks, actively competing with each other, with many 24/7 news channels. The same applies to online media outlets and daily newspapers, whose circulation numbers are constantly declining, but still impactful. The only national newspaper that dedicates regular space to maritime related topics is the financial daily MF, featuring a two-page column on shipping and logistics every Friday.

The trade press includes a surprisingly large number of outlets specialising in shipping, with many very knowledgeable journalists spread all over Italy. However, the circulation of these magazines is limited – this remains a niche even here, after all. Hence you better prepare yourself to reach out to media representatives that confuse boats with ships.

In cauda venenum (“The sting is in the tail”): social media handling might be the toughest part of a crisis. Smartphones and their (mis)use has lately become more a pathology than a trend in a country with one of the highest phones/population ratios (83%, third worldwide after South Korea and Hong Kong). Managing these pressures would probably require a specific, fully dedicated team.

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