“In a country like Italy, affected by high levels of femicide and violence against women, the mass media is contributing to a dangerous culture,” Cristiana De Lia, one of the activists behind the petition, told The Local.
The prank – which involved a backing dancer groping Italian singer Emma Marrone during show rehearsals – was broadcast on Monday on Italy's Canale 5.
Marrone was visibly uncomfortable, repeatedly asking the dancer to stop pressing up against her, rubbing her thighs and kissing her. But the dancer continued to touch her hair, legs, buttocks and breast, as well as kiss her buttocks and shoulder.
“I don't want to be a prude,” Marrone is heard telling one of the technical assistants. “But when he touches me so much, I can't sing. This isn't dancing!”
After repeating the phrase “No, a bit less”, Marrone grew increasingly agitated, pushing him away and eventually pushed him to the ground, shouting. Only at this point did producers reveal that the episode had been a “joke”.
The clip was shown in Monday's episode, to laughter and applause from the studio audience, presenters and guests, including Marrone herself.
The TV show shared the clip on their social media profiles accompanied with the caption “'A bit less' – Quote of the day!” and a crying-laughing emoticon. It was soon trending on YouTube Italia and received widespread media coverage – with many publications suggesting Marrone had overreacted.
“As well as affecting the singer, a 'joke' like this affects all victims of violence and abuse, making them believe that abuse is normal – so normal, in fact, that we should laugh about it,” Cristiana De Lia, who founded La Malafemmina, told The Local.
De Lia pointed out that the audience of the programme, Amici di Maria De Filippo, is predominantly made up of young people, and said the show “should not promote a sexist culture”.
The most recent figures from Italian statistics agency Istat show that around one in three Italian women suffer from violence at some point in their life, while a 2015 study found that one in four young Italians believed violence against women could be justified by “love”, or exasperation at the woman or her clothing.
In February last year, an Italian inland revenue manager was acquitted of sexual harassment after a Palermo court ruled that he was “immature” and had touched colleagues' breasts and buttocks “in a joking manner”.
In an interview with Il Fatto Quotidiano published on Thursday, presenter Maria de Filippi denied that the episode had any link to a sexist culture.
“If some people think that the joke was sexual assault, that means the world has turned upside down. I don't think that anyone who is even slightly rational could think such a thing,” she said.
It's not the first time that TV presenters have been called out for appearing to excuse sexual harassment.
In France last year, hundreds of TV viewers lodged complaints after a male presenter kissed a woman's breast – after she had told him 'no'. The country's minister for Equal Rights was quick to denounce the incident.
And only last month, Italy's state broadcaster Rai was forced to apologize for a programme exploring relationships between Italian men and Eastern European women, which said women from countries in Eastern Europe were “always sexy” and “perfect housewives”.
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP