Political communication at the time of the coronavirus

Political communication at the time of the coronavirus

In the period of recent history that more than any other has shown how much the institutions must know how to communicate well (and at the right time), we asked Antonio Palmieri, deputy of Forza Italia, for an assessment of these months of "infodemic"

(photo: TIZIANA FABI / AFP via Getty Images) 2020 was an anomalous year, we know it: not only the world was prey to a planetary catastrophe of very rare proportions in human history, but the same relationship between class managers and citizens had to adapt to the emergency climate. In Italy, above all, this new report was articulated around press conferences in prime time, dpcm published in the newspapers of the previous days and accusations against Giuseppe Conte's government of having made it difficult for citizens to understand what was happening. In short, how important is political communication in such a delicate phase? To answer this question, we asked Antonio Palmieri, deputy of Forza Italia and historical national head of electoral and internet communication for Silvio Berlusconi's party, a role he has held since 1995.

Never as in 2020 has political communication played an essential role in the daily life of citizens: it has often been said that the government has not communicated effectively, leaving risky margins of uncertainty and confusion. What do you think?

“Reality always comes before communication. The communicative acrobatics do not stand the test of facts, even more so in a dramatic period like this. The government, indeed, the premier has chosen as a means of communication to communicate essentially himself: continuous interviews, press conferences at the time of the evening news, use of the personal Facebook page as the fulcrum of press conferences to aggregate followers and so on. In the beginning it worked: in times of danger, people tend to unite around those who are responsible for driving. Today this approach works much less, because reality bites, on the epidemiological level and on the side of the economic crisis, with entire sectors wiped out.

The premier's hyper-communication, with promises, soft tones, elegance is no longer enough. Hyper-communication is a temptation from which it is difficult to remain immune. Even Minister Speranza, who in recent months had distinguished himself for the choice not to communicate, that is to be as little present as possible in the media limelight, obtaining an aura of seriousness and prudence, in the end slipped on the banana peel of the self-congratulatory book given to the press in full second wave, as if he hadn't foreseen at all what would happen in the autumn. Self communication is always very risky and dangerous. For the government and for the citizens ".

There has also been talk of infodemics, that is, the invasion of fake news, alarmist news or background noise that has made it difficult for citizens to inform themselves properly - or to approach calm way, as far as possible - the coronavirus theme. In this sense, what was the role played by the internet?

“In April I appealed to the government to disseminate reliable information and respond promptly to the biggest hoaxes. There were many on WhatsApp: alleged news of amazing drugs, Covid remedies based on vitamin C or lemon juice and so on. The task force against fake news that the government then fielded did what it could, but the issue of infodemic unfortunately remained. Also because starting from June the competition between scientists, epidemiologists and virologists was added to the normal fake news, which contributed to confusing ideas even more on TV and of course also online. In short, the confusion under the sky is great ”.

In your opinion, has Italian politics drawn communicative lessons from this long crisis?

“No. In addition to the aforementioned approach used by the premier, so far there has been a tendency to re-propose on the one hand a muscular scheme, that is, a strong contrast between the sides. The only exception - I know that when I say it sounds biased - is Silvio Berlusconi, who since March has held a consistent behavior from a communicative and political point of view. On the side of the majority, there was the total inability to admit their mistakes and prepare for a truthful communication with the citizens. Moreover, it is evident that this presupposes clarity and unity of purpose. Two requirements absent in the government and in the majority, as shown by what has been happening in recent weeks ".

The Covid emergency has also imposed an accelerated process of digitization of public services and economic activities: how it went , overall?

“All in all, I think the world of big business has managed quite well. In my experience as a resident of the far outskirts of Milan, I also had the surprise of seeing the small proximity shops digitized during the lockdown, for example by equipping themselves for orders via WhatsApp with subsequent home delivery. It is an example that indicates an important step.

It is clear that the big platforms are the ones that have made the most of a situation that has forced millions of Italians to use e-commerce. However, there are many small businesses that have chosen not to passively witness the collapse, not to follow the sterile lament for the excessive power of Amazon and have equipped themselves to use digital and e-commerce. After all, we Italians have the record for the spread of smartphones. So the potential market is there.

As far as public administration is concerned, unfortunately the epic fail have been more numerous than the successes ".

As a parliamentarian who has reached his fifth term, different chapters in the history of the digital agenda: where are we, and what are the next steps?

"On paper, we have the plans and the funds have also been allocated, but the problem is execution. It lacks the ability to be on the piece, unraveling the individual knots that jam the mechanism to make things work. For years I have argued that we should speak not of digital revolution but of digital evolution, because every change - especially in public administration services - involves meticulous, painstaking work, to be completed piece by piece. To do this we need a culture of the result and not of the procedure and a strong and continuous attention on the part of those who have political responsibility ".

In the European Commission's Desi 2020 digitalization index of the economy and society , Italy is in 25th position out of 28 EU member states. What must be done to ascend?

"On the one hand, adequate action is needed in schools and on the other, the state must provide services that lead us to use digital in the appropriate way, creating education through doing. But the precondition is that the services work: because it is evident that if the Inps site collapses on the day of the clickday or if the Io app crashes for cashback, you are not going anywhere.

In the meantime -long period the strategic node remains the school. Distance teaching has highlighted the connectivity problems in many areas of the country, the lack of adequate devices in many families, the need to innovate teaching. These are areas of work to be set up now for the next few years. After all, we all know the wrong things. We need to treasure the many positive experiences that do not make the news and the ability to elevate them to a system. This is the government's job. ”

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