Much-maligned Naples threatens to sue its detractors

Nick Squires
Police at the scene of a shooting in Naples in August 2016. The city is the home to the ruthless Camorra mafia. - Copyright (c) 2016 Rex Features. No use without permission.

Badmouth Naples at your peril.  The city, famous as the birthplace of pizza and infamous as the home of the Camorra mafia, is threatening to launch legal action against anyone found guilty of what it deems unfair criticism.

The council has set up a website called Defend the City, where Neapolitans can denounce negative coverage of the sprawling port.

Naples has much to offer visitors, from Baroque churches to underground catacombs and sublime views of the brooding cone of Mt Vesuvius and the island of Capri.

But it also has a dark side – from uncollected rubbish to crumbling masonry, beggars on the street, touts, prostitutes and hustlers hanging around the train stations, and drive-by shootings by Camorra gangsters on motorbikes.

The mayor says he is fed up with the negative press and prepared to go on the offensive against anyone found to be defaming the city and its inhabitants. The city will consult its lawyers about potential cases of defamation and take offenders to court.

Neapolitans simply have to take a screenshot of the offending newspaper article, social media page or website, and send it to the authorities.

“It isn't that we can't take criticism, or that we want to spout propaganda. We just want to defend the city when anyone, whoever it is, portrays it in a way that is contrary to the truth,” said the mayor, Luigi de Magistris. He said Naples did not have a “persecution complex” but was sensitive to how it was seen by the outside world. 

Neapolitans were not “whingers” but wanted to protect the reputation of their hometown. The website, called “Difendi la citta” in Italian, warns: “For some time, and ever more often, we have seen a distorted and sometimes defamatory portrayal of the city of Naples, making it the target of prejudices, stereotypes and damaging generalisations.”

The punchy new approach could open up all sorts of publications to prosecution. A recent edition of the Time Out guide to Naples, for instance, says visitors who step out of its principal train station “may wonder whether they’ve made a terrible mistake…it’s threatening and mesmerizing, alienating and entrancing”.

A bullet hole in the wall of a police station in Naples, after it was sprayed with rounds from a Kalashnikov assault rifle by suspected Camorra criminals. Credit: ANSA

The initiative was met with ridicule by some Italians, who said the council would do better directing its efforts at cleaning up the city rather than persecuting its critics.

Naples’ leaders were cultivating a victim culture rather than “taking the trouble to confront real problems,” a columnist wrote on the front page of Corriere della Sera, a leading daily newspaper.  It was easier for them to blame decades of inaction and inefficiency on “an external plot”.

“We can’t blame anyone but ourselves for our problems,” one man told a local TV station in a vox pop interview. “It is the people of Naples who don’t respect the city, not visitors.”

The most recent sleight to Naples’ honour came last month when the mayor of Cantu, a town near Lake Como in northern Italy, branded the city “the hellish cesspit of Italy”.

Claudio Bizzozero, a member of the Northern League, the Right-wing party that once campaigned for the secession of northern Italy and traditionally regards the south with disdain, said Naples was a place of “criminality, environmental and social decay, parasites and profiteers. “Naples is a dirty, polluted, mafia-infested, corrupt and uncivilized city,” he wrote. The city council is suing him for his remarks, which he posted on Facebook.  

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