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Italian public broadcaster asked to stop promoting ‘intolerable’ content

Activists opposed to racism, homophobia, antisemitism and sexism in the Italian media have written to the public broadcaster, Rai, urging it to stop promoting “intolerable” content.

Rai apologised recently for the use of blackface in its shows, and advised editors to stop airing productions in which performers wear makeup to imitate black people, but stopped short of an outright ban.

The broadcaster was also criticised last week for allegedly attempting to censor an Italian rapper’s condemnation of homophobia.

Activist groups, founded in Italy or by Italians living overseas, have been keeping track of cases of offensive content across Italian television and other media. They claim the state broadcaster regularly breaks its own code of ethics when it ought to be setting an example for the industry.

“The situation is way worse than you can imagine, but it’s not just Rai,” said Alessia Reyna, the UK-based founder of D.E.I Futuro Antirazzista, one of the signatories to the letter.

“However, as a broadcaster that is paid for by the public, Rai ought to represent an institution that is able to inform and promote culture and entertainment in a plural and inclusive way.”

Rai’s apology for blackface content followed a furore over the recent re-airing on Mediaset, the network owned by the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, of a 2014 episode of the satirical show Striscia la Notizia. In the episode, two presenters make offensive gestures in relation to Chinese people’s eyes and mock Chinese accents.

“We asked the channel to delete the episode and make an apology and received a reply along the lines of ‘this is satire, and if you don’t get it, then so what’,” said Reyna.

In a recent episode of another Mediaset show, Felicissima Sera, the comedy duo Pio e Amedeo insulted the LGBTQ+ community, black people and Jews during a monologue on political correctness .

“Their intention was to say there is ‘too much political correctness’, and so ‘we will say all the words that are forbidden’,” said Reyna.

Activists have also identified the use of the N-word on several occasions across Italian media, including a radio DJ on a private station who in April told “social justice warriors” to “chill out”, because the N-word is “just a word”.

Under a movement called #CambieRai, which has asked Rai to create a diversity and inclusion advisory council, activist groups came together in April to protest outside the offices of both Rai and Mediaset in Rome, Milan and Turin.

In an interview with the Associated Press last week, Giovanni Parapini, the broadcaster’s director for social causes, said the public network did not accept #CambieRai’s criticisms, “because that would mean that RAI in all these years did nothing for integration”.

Parapini noted that the network had never been called out by regulators and listed programming that included minorities, from a Gambia-born sportscaster known as Idris in the 1990s to plans for a televised festival in July featuring second-generation Italians.

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