Italy bans ‘sexist and discriminatory’ billboard adverts

The Italian government has approved new rules forbidding sexist or violent messages along Italy's roads.

People cycle by billboards in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.
A new law aims to regulate the advertising messages seen by road users in Italy. Photo: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

Contained in Italy’s updated Highway Code is a measure to ban certain types of images people see while driving.

Offensive gender stereotypes, messages which infringe on respect for individual freedoms, civil and political rights, religious beliefs or ethnicity are all now banned.

The measure also stipulates that any images that discriminate against sexual orientation, gender identity or physical or mental abilities are not allowed.

READ ALSO: Italy launches e-scooter clampdown and bigger fines for phone-using drivers

For anyone found violating the rule, authorisation to advertise can be removed and the material will be taken down. There was no mention of monetary fines for breaching this section of code.

The move has received a mixed response.

Lucio Malan, a senator with the far-right Brothers of Italy party, described the law change as “an ideological norm aimed at limiting freedom of expression,” reported Italian newspaper La Stampa.

The change was included in the Infrastructure Decree, which governs the country’s laws relating to transport and public works.

Despite opposition from right wing parties to this particular section of it, the measure was approved along with other reforms to road regulations.

“How is it possible that in a decree concerning investments and safety of infrastructures, transport and road traffic, an ideological rule has been inserted, aimed at limiting freedom of expression, under the pretext that the exercise of this freedom cannot take place on roads and vehicles?” stated Malan.

Participants hold a banner reading “Zan law right now!” Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Those against the new rule point to the issue of gender identity. It was this in part that led the Italian parliament to reject a bill aimed at fighting homophobia.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s proposed anti-homophobia law and why is it controversial?

The law, proposed in May 2018 and known as the ‘ddl Zan’, sought to punish acts of discrimination and incitement to violence against gay, lesbian, transgender and disabled people.

But the upper house agreed to block its passage through parliament after it was approved last November by the lower house.

Far right members have claimed that this part of the Highway Code is the ‘Zan Bill’ under another name.

“This is completely unacceptable and was introduced by stealth,” Malan added.

Jacopo Coghe, vice president of pro-life organisation ‘ProVita’ said, “Gender identity was not included with the Trojan horse of the Zan bill and now the government is surreptitiously trying again by including it in this law under the fig leaf, as usual, of discrimination.”

Critics of the Zan Bill said it risked endangering freedom of expression and would have paved the way for “homosexual propaganda” in schools.

The section on sexist advertising in the Infrastructure Decree was introduced by MP Alessia Rotta of the centre-left Democratic Party and Raffaella Paita from the centrist Italia Viva Party.

“The amendment is the result of a long transversal project that allows us to give a social value to these issues,” stated Paita.

Referring to the Zan Bill, she said, “In that case, gender identity was expressed in various forms, unlike in our amendment.”

People hold a banner reading “against fascism, racism and sexism, everyday, in all cities”. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP

“However, proposing and getting the amendment approved is proof that the political force I represent is trying to lend a hand on the issue of civil rights and that fighting alone will slow down progress.

“We have to work with a weaving logic to help those who suffer discrimination,” she added.

Italy’s advertising industry faced a backlash in 2017 when jewellery brand Pandora was accused of sexism over a Christmas ad that appeared across billboards in Milan.

Targeted at those buying presents for women, the advert read, “An iron, pyjamas, an apron, a Pandora bracelet. In your opinion, what would make her happy?”

The company responded with an acknowledgement to the “stereotypes we’re all familiar with in an ironic and playful way”.

Another uproar came in 2015 when an Italian clothes brand was accused of sexism, suggesting that the wearer give it to their mother to wash because “it’s her job”.

The ban on discriminatory adverts is just one of a raft of changes to road regulations for cars, e-scooters, motorbikes and pedestrians.

While some rules come into force immediately, this new regulation will be applied within 90 days.

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COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Driving is a great way to enjoy scenic European roads. Pictured is a highway in Norway (Photo by Shai Pal on Unsplash)

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.