State broadcaster Rai announced on Monday that it was cancelling 'Parliamone sabato' (Let's talk about it on Saturday) – a talk show which typically brings in 1.5 million viewers – following controversy over an episode titled 'The threat comes from the east. Men prefer foreign women'.
Its subtitle posed the question: 'Are they husband-stealers or perfect wives?'.
Presenter Paola Perego opened the show by saying it would explore “the phenomenon of eastern women, and the fascination they hold for men.”
A variety of guests, including women from Eastern European countries and Italian men, discussed the phenomenon and spoke about 'famous examples' of men who had had multiple relationships with women from Eastern Europe, including US president Donald Trump.
At one point, presenter Perego appeared confused about which countries make up Eastern Europe, telling Italian actor Fabio Testi: “You've been with marvellous women from the East, like [Swedish actress] Anita Ekberg”.
But the most controversial part of the programme was a graphic which listed “reasons to choose a girlfriend from the east”.
The six-point list, rife with stereotypes, included “they're always sexy”, “they forgive cheating”, and “they're perfect housewives and learn household tasks from a young age”.
The graphic listing reasons to date Eastern European women. Screengrab: Rai1
The other points cited in the list – which Perego said she had found online – were that Eastern European women supposedly “let their husbands call the shots”, “they're all mums but after giving birth they regain their sculpted figures”, and “they don't whine”.
Women's rights organization Non Una di Meno, which has organized nationwide demonstrations against gendered violence, accused Rai of sexism and racism in the report, pointing out that the broadcaster had not covered the global Women's Strike on March 8th.
“Violence also happens in the media,” they said. “Let's build different narratives, together. We want feminist media to fight against gendered violence.”
— NonUnaDiMeno (@nonunadimeno) March 20, 2017
After censuring the women's strike, Rai shows sexism and racism.
Reaction on social media was a mixture of astonishment – “This is a joke, right?” – and outrage.
“Yesterday on Rai 1, they illustrated why feminism should never stop, but be urgent,” said one viewer.
“Is this what we pay our licence fee for?” asked another.
The president of Italy's Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, also linked such sexist attitudes to violence. “If we objectify women, from there it's a small step to violence,” she said. “It's offensive to men as well as women, as if they were unable to interact with the other sex in a respectful, equal way.”
The director of Rai 1, Andrea Fabiano, apologized on Monday morning, saying: “Errors always go recognized, no if and buts. I apologize to everyone for what was seen and heard on Parliamone sabato.”
The broadcaster's president, Monica Maggioni, also apologized on Monday. Speaking to Ansa, she described the incident as “a crazy mistake, unacceptable”.
“I personally feel involved as a woman. I apologize. As a company we will try to understand how this programme came about,” said Maggioni.