Of Waste and Media: The Italian Newspapers’ Coverage of the 2008 Waste Emergency in Naples and its Consequences on Local Public Opinion in Turin

By Giuseppe Tipaldo.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies

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Public participation and consensual decision-making on the part of all stakeholders (e.g. political institutions and local communities) are presently two of the most shared “leitmotifs” in determining waste-to-energy plants locations. Far from assuming deterministic perspectives, a key role is played by the media, whose narrative influence can drive the negotiation strategies between citizens and promoters towards different outcomes. As a part of an on-going five-year research study on the social impact of the incinerator currently under construction in Turin, Italy, this paper is mostly concerned with the 2008 Italian newspaper coverage of the waste emergency in Naples. Secondly, data from the mass media analysis are cross-tabulated with those coming from a longitudinal survey and various focus groups, giving empirical evidence of the effects of press coverage on public opinion towards waste-to-energy technology. The work demonstrates a highly emphatic and dramatized communication has been employed by Italian newspapers to describe the Naples’ waste emergency as a “new Chernobyl”, the sole solution of which would be incineration with energy recovery. Alternate solutions to incineration were given short shrift and limited space in press coverage. By making the local emergency in Naples a sort of Hirschman’s "catalytic event" nation-wide, the media strongly influenced public opinion from a short term perspective, inducing people (particularly those of low cultural profile) to agree with a “waste-to-energy” philosophy. Hence, the strong rise of positive attitudes towards the incineration plant in Turin between 2007 and 2008. With that coverage losing its intensity after the second half of 2008, a general sense of uncertainty, possibly due to a crowding-out effect, is detected among interviewees in the 2009 wave, whereas a sharp reversal of trend towards more critical positions is clearly evident from the latest 2011 data. Thus, in a medium-term perspective, forms of communication strongly affected by sensationalism, alarmism and oversimplification, beyond the relevant ethical implications, do not appear to give any ROI (Return On Investments) in delicate and controversial technoscientific issues, but may be counterproductive for everyone: end-users, institutions, industry stakeholders and media reputation.

Keywords: Waste-to-Energy, Incineration, Local Conflicts, Emergency, Naples, NIMBY Syndrome, Press Analysis, Content Analysis, Mass Media Coverage, Framing, Science-Technology-Society

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp.13-33. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 605.942KB).

Giuseppe Tipaldo

Research Fellow at University of Turin, Department of Cultures, Politics, and Society, University of Turin, Torino, Italy

Giuseppe Tipaldo (born in Turin, Italy, 15/02/1980) has a PhD in Comparative Social Research from 2009 and holds a Post Doc research fellow position within the Department of Cultures, Politics and Society of the University of Turin, Italy. In 2007, he joined the ‘MonVISO project' research team (coordinators prof. Carmen Belloni and prof. Sergio Scamuzzi), studying the social impacts of the presently under-construction urban waste incinerator of Turin. Here, he deals with public opinion auditing (longitudinal surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, participant observations) and data analysis (quantitative analysis as well as textual analysis from qualitative techniques and mass media texts), providing up-to-date and methodologically trustworthy guidelines for strategic communication plans. Research activity related to ‘MonVISO project' has been resulting in a number of works focused on uncertainty and its effects in Science-Society relationship; risk, scientific literacy and mass media coverage of techno-scientific issues; civicness and trust; critical reviews of ‘traditional-approach'-based communication models and new ‘participatory-approach'-based models in techno-science dissemination activities. During 2008, he entered an interdisciplinary group to work on Quality in Piedmont local television system, a research funded by the Piedmont Regional Committee for Communications (CORECOM Piemonte). Here, he organised all methodological and analytical aspects of the research, being specifically involved into the analysis of “news and dissemination programs” category. He is also a member, since early 2011, of the Interdepartmental Centre on natural hazards in the mountains and hills (NatRisk) of the University of Turin, where he is now keen on a study about social impact and public acceptability of the BIOENER-Wood and BIOENER-Water projects, two European funded researches dealing with intense local renovation and environmental improvement in the city of Ormea and the Alta Val Tanaro area. He is part of European Sociological Association (ESA) Research Network 12 “Environment, Risk and Society”, former member of Observa - Science in Society and STS Italia - Italian Association for Science & Technology Studies. His main research interests are in controversies and conflicts involving environment and techno-scientific activities; social representations of techno-scientific issues and mass media coverage impact on non-experts; and, from a methodological perspective, mass media content analysis. He authored a book on content analysis, 10 papers in scientific journals (and 2 more are next to come), two chapter in a book and more than 30 presentations and abstracts in national and international conferences. He is professor of Sociology of Communication at the SAA Business School and Mass Media Languages at the faculty of Letters and Philosophy of the University of Turin. His teaching experience also includes a course of Content Analysis Techniques (years 2010 and 2011) and a long-standing teaching cooperation in Methodology of Social Research and Environmental Communication.