Dangerous Words of Matteo Salvini

Published: 25 June 2018

Country: Italy

by Angelo Boccato

Screen_Shot_2018-07-02_at_09.21.22Everyone is talking about Matteo Salvini. As new Italian Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, he recently called for a census on Roma people with plans to deport non-Italian Roma. “Unfortunately, we have to keep the Italian Roma,” says Salvini, a leader of the far-right party Lega. He also made headlines by refusing docking rights to the NGO-run Aquarius rescue boat, which had 629 refugees and migrants on board. Last week the international media analysed his far-right, anti-Roma and anti-migrant rhetoric while the Media Diversity Institute (MDI) looks closer at the coverage of the Italian mainstream media outlets. Did they fail to question the Italy’s turn to right or there are signs of changing the course of reporting since Salvini became a minister a month ago?

After Salvini’s attack on Roma, there has been an outrage. The Union of Italian Jewish Communities pointed out that the proposal to create a registry for Italian Roma is a reminiscent of the similar registry for the Italian Jews in 1938.

“The Roma are Europe’s most unwanted people. Some 10 to 12 million Roma live across the continent,” reports the Observer’s Kenan Malik reminding that “one in four Roma is thought to have perished in Holocaust.”

It is unlikely that the Lega’s leader will give up one of his favorite targets, a minority that has always been picked up by politicians and some media spreading stereotypes and discrimination against them. As MDI concluded after the elections in March 2018, many media in Italy failed to question the League’s far-right rhetoric, but are the media challenging Salvini’s policy and public statements now?

The Italian right-wing newspapers such as Il Giornale, Libero and La Verità have endorsed the government’s approach that has been criticized by the magazine L’ Espresso alongside some other media. One of the central issues seems to be the fact-checking of Salvini’s claims. The League’s leader professes himself as a supporter of data and statistics but journalists generally fail to question him on this front effectively.

The adamant choice of closing the Italian ports to the Aquarius ship and the 629 migrants on board made international headlines and saw Salvini assuming the unofficial role of Italian PM, turning from ‘far-right fringe player to strongman leader’, as observed by the Guardian.

The Ministry of the Interior labelled the NGO ship a ‘cruise’ and the fact that it had to dock in Valencia, following the Spanish government decision to open its port as a proof that the other European countries are finally listening to Italy’s needs and that the country is not the continent’s doormat anymore.

Salvini’s communication style has earned him the record of most popular European politician of Facebook, thanks to his direct and often brutal posts and their volume, with 2,6 million likes compared to Angela Merkel’s 2,5 million.

Salvini has also used his new role in the government to threaten to remove Roberto Saviano’s police protection, following the latter’s criticism of his far-right stance. The author of Gomorrah wrote in the Guardian that the Ministry of the Interior is threatening him in mafia-style, but that he’s not afraid.

In the current context of Italian politics and public life, it seems like that Salvini never ended his electoral campaign while the most of the Italian media not seem able to keep up with it.