More news and less cleavage, demands Italian state television's first woman boss

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The Independent Online

Italian television has long been remarkable for the number of beautiful women, often wearing very few clothes, who adorn its programmes, whatever the ostensible subject.

The flirtation with cleavages, legs, navels and bottoms began way back in 1955 with the daring breasts of one Abbe Lane. It proceeded through the magnificent legs of Alice and Ellen Kessler in 1961, the navel of Rafaella Cara, and the nude bath taken by Simona Izzo in 1984 while drinking champagne.

But now, if Lucia Annunziata, the first woman to chair the board of Italy's state broadcaster, RAI, is to be believed, all that is to go. This week, in perhaps the most dramatic shake-up in the corporation's history, she ordered broadcasters to "avoid images... offensive to the dignity of women."

If her directive is taken seriously, RAI will have to be reconstructed from the ground up. Few programmes on any of its three channels are complete without one or more scantily-clad, heavy-bosomed teenagers rotating their assets.

Even the newsreaders are of extraordinary glamour: the musk of expensively packaged sexuality comes through the screen, drowning out whatever content they may be trying to convey.

"Television is basically tits and bums," shrugged one famous compere a couple of years ago. But Annunziata, struggling to make her mark on the corporation to which she was appointed in March, was firm.

"More news and less wrapping paper," she said, summarising the new line, But take away the wrapping paper and what's left? Thanks to the ubiquitous vulgarity of Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset channels, and RAI's attempts to keep pace, semi-nudity seems as basic to Italian TV as colour or commercials.

But yesterday no one had a word to say against the chairwoman's bold new line. One of television's noted beauties, Luisa Corna, said, "I'm in agreement. Public television should not offer a model of womanhood that is all legs and derriere." When the interviewer gently reminded Ms Corna of her own appearances, she said, "It all depends on the mental attitude with which you do it."

Ms Annunziata, who began in journalism with Il Manifesto, a Communist daily, will command widespread respect for her initiative. It was Franca Ciampi, the wife of Italy's president, who said what foreigners have noticed for years: that Italian TV is deficiente - "half-witted."

Many will agree that it is high time that RAI took action to restore its credibility. But the corporation's audience ratings are already on the slide, to the advantage of Mr Berlusconi's channels. Can Ms Annunziata believe that removing beautiful girls from RAI will reverse the trend? Or might the whole idea derive from the Machiavellian brain of Mr Berlusconi himself?