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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Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

An Italian centre-left election pact broke down on Sunday just days after it was formed, leaving the path to power clear for the hard-right coalition.

Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

The alliance between Italian centre-left parties was left in disarray on Sunday night, potentially meaning a landslide victory for the hard-right coalition at early general elections in September.

The leader of the centrist Azione party withdrew support for the left-wing coalition led by the Democratic Party (PD) just five days after the two joined forces, saying it could not work with left-wingers brought in to boost the alliance.

Carlo Calenda, leader of Azione, withdrew his support on Sunday after PD made another pact with smaller left-wing parties including the radical Sinistra Italiana, and new green party Europa Verde.

“You cannot explain (to voters) that to defend the constitution you make a pact with people you know you will never govern with,” Calenda told newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The news was greeted with jubilation by hard-right League leader Matteo Salvini, who tweeted: “On the left chaos and everyone against everyone!”

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the neofascist Brothers of Italy party (FdI) mocked a “new twist in the soap opera of the centre-left.”

READ ALSO: Italy to choose ‘Europe or nationalism’ at election, says PD leader

Analyists predict the centre-left split could hand the right-wing bloc a landslide victory at the election on September 25th, with Meloni tipped to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni has a strong alliance with Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Letta is struggling to bring together the disparate  progressive parties.

The PD is neck and neck with Brothers of Italy in the latest opinion polls, but even in partnership with Azione, the group most recently polled at 33.6 percent, compared with 46.4 percent for the right.

Political commentators said the only hope PD has now of posing a credible threat to the right-wing alliance would be by partnering with the Five Star Movement.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

However, Letta has repeatedly said this is out of the question, as he blames M5S for triggering the political crisis that brought down Mario Draghi’s broad coalition government.

“Either PD eats its hat and seeks alliance with M5S to defeat the right-wing coalition, or it’s hard to see how the right can possibly lose the forthcoming election,” Dr Daniele Albertazzi, a politics professor at the University of Surrey in England, tweeted on Sunday.

Early elections were called after Draghi resigned in late July. His government currently remains in place in a caretaker role.