ROME — The organizer of Italy's Miss Italia beauty pageant is criticizing the state-run television network's decision not to broadcast this year's contest, a step that comes as audiences for the show have dwindled and amid pressure to improve how women are portrayed in the Italian media.
Miss Italia's finals have been shown on RAI in September for 25 years. But the broadcaster's general director, Luigi Gubitosi, was quoted as saying Tuesday by the Italian news agency ANSA that "the format by now has become outdated."
Scantily-clad women are a mainstay of much of Italian TV, with everything from quiz shows to talk shows featuring leggy showgirls on state channels as well as on private networks. The formula was championed by media mogul Silvio Berlusconi on the nation's three main private networks before he became a political leader.
On Monday, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, hailed the decision to abandon the traditional transmission of the contest finals as a "civilized and modern choice."
"I hope that Italian young women will have the chance to be appreciated, even on television, in a different way than by parading with numbers on them," she told a conference on violence against women.
But Patrizia Mirigliani, the organizer of the contest, blasted RAI's decision, saying the broadcaster, which is funded partially by taxpayers, should instead try to modernize the show's format. She insisted that the pageant doesn't degrade women.
"In the past years, I've worked hard to change the competition, keeping it up-to-date," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "Miss Italia is about a woman who is beautiful, but also complete and eager for challenges. But this idea hasn't come through" on TV, she contended.
For example, Mirigliani said, TV emcees have clung to the format of asking the contestants what she called "silly questions."
Francesca Giammaria, a Roman, applauded the decision by RAI as a first step toward changing how young women like her are viewed.
"It's true that there are more serious problems" surrounding the image of women in Italy, "but let's start from the small things," she said as she enjoyed a quick meal with friends near the Pantheon.
But others might miss the annual TV show. Silvana Contristano, a middle-aged Roman, said she "always watched Miss Italia. It didn't do any harm. It was a tradition."
Her husband, Ugo Nocentini, disagreed. "I totally understand the doubts about the program's value for public service. It's farcical," he said.
Boldrini suggested there was a clear connection between sexism on television and physical abuse against women. "If women are made into objects, the distance from there to violence is small," she said.
But Mirigliani called Miss Italia a "show for families" and noted that such pageants are shown on television around the world.
The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano jumped into the fray, with a commentary Tuesday praising RAI's decision to pull the plug on the program. It called the pageant a "miserable bandwagon" that has become "unsuitable for public service."