A year after the fall of Silvio Berlusconi, the new head of Italy's state television has launched a crusade against the 'Bunga Bunga era'
Almost a year to the day after the fall of Silvio Berlusconi, a quiet revolution is under way in Italian television. Once notorious for streaming a steady diet of inane game shows featuring barely-clothed showgirls, it is now under pressure to both clean up and cover up.
At the forefront of the campaign is the formidable new head of Italy's state broadcasting body, Anna Maria Tarantola, who has launched what some Italian commentators view as a "crusade" against the excesses of the bunga bunga era.
Mrs Tarantola, 67, whose golden coiffeur and steely resolve have invited comparisons with Mrs Thatcher and the Queen, wants to give more air time to "normal" women rather than the silicone-enhanced showgirls who became a staple of Italian television during the Berlusconi years.
"I don't much like the way women are presented on TV," said Mrs Tarantola, who has been appointed the head of RAI, or Radio Televisione Italiana, by Mario Monti, the sombre technocrat who replaced the flamboyant Mr Berlusconi as prime minister last November.
Mrs Tarantola, who was educated at the LSE and rose to become deputy director general of the Bank of Italy, called for programmes that were less "banal" and with more "values", in an appeal with distinct overtones of the BBC's founder Lord Reith.
Day-time talk show programmes which discussed the merits of plastic surgery for an hour or more were "excessive", she declared. The message, instead, should instead be that "women are beautiful as they are".
It is not just Italian television that is cleaning up its act in the post-Berlusconi era, however. While it may not yet be a case of No-Sex-Please-We're-Italian, commentators claim to detect a distinct shift in attitudes towards women in many areas of public life.
Contestants in this year's Miss Italy contest, for example, were ordered to ditch the skimpy bikinis they normally wear in favour of much more modest one-piece costumes. And girls who had plastic surgery or who sported tattoos and body piercings were prohibited from entering the competition in September.
The new rules were touted an attempt to return to the elegance of the 1950s, when the likes of Sophia Loren posed in demure all-in-one swimsuits, said Patrizia Mirigliani, the pageant's organiser.
The changes to the format were made after "hints" from Elsa Fornero, the new minister for work and equal opportunities in the Monti government.
Mrs Fornero, 64, who is another respected economist, also voiced her disapproval when a well-known showgirl, Belen Rodriguez, appeared in an extremely revealing dress presenting the San Remo music festival, Italy's answer to the Eurovision song contest.
Argentinian-born Belen Rodriguez, who is ubiquitous on Italian television, advertising and in gossip magazines, sashayed down a flight of stairs in a dress which was split so high that she exposed a butterfly tattoo adorning her groin.
Mrs Fornero did not criticise the actress directly but did say the day afterwards that as a woman she sometimes felt "offended" by what she saw on television, adding that she found the best ploy was to "change channel or switch off altogether".
The minister is part of a new female line-up in the Monti government that vividly illustrates the radical break with the Berlusconi era.
Gone are the young, attractive female ministers who crowded Mr Berlusconi's cabinet, including Mara Carfagna, whose steamy poses in men's magazines gained her a huge male following before she was made equal opportunities minister.
They have been replaced by a trio of high-powered, stern women with distinguished backgrounds in economics, public policy and academia – Mrs Fornero, 64, Anna Maria Cancellieri, 68, the interior minister, and Paolo Severino, 64, the justice minister.
As they mark a year in power, two of their predecessors face the ignominy of being called as witnesses in Mr Berlusconi's ongoing sex trial, in which he is accused of paying for sex with an alleged under-age prostitute – charges he denies.
Tomorrow, Miss Carfagna is due to appear at a hearing in Milan along with Maria Stella Gelmini, who was minister of education in the Berlusconi government.
The young woman at the heart of the trial has also undergone a radical change in circumstances since attending Mr Berlusconi's bunga bunga parties.
During the height of the controversy, Karima El Mahroug – better known by her stage name as Ruby the Heart Stealer – appeared in talk shows and nightclub openings in skin-tight, shimmering dresses.
These days she portrays herself as a demure young mother who is photographed, without make-up or sexy clothes, pushing a baby stroller. She gave birth to a girl in December last year and has settled down with her nightclub owner boyfriend.
There are those who argue that none of these changes go more than skin deep, and that, a year after Mr Berlusconi quit as prime minister, Italy has changed little in its attitude to women, television and sex.
The country is ranked a lowly 80th in this year's Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum– down from 74th in 2011. It ranked worse than Brunei, East Timor, Ukraine and Moldova. It makes its judgements on a wide range of economic and social criteria.
Most other Western European countries appeared in the top 20, with Britain at number 18.
"It is very sad that we have dropped six places but it reflects the painful truth," said Lorella Zanardo, the director of Il Corpo Delle Donne (The Body of Women), a documentary about the image of women on Italian television.
"Berlusconi has gone and the bunga bunga era is definitely over, but the patriarchal, macho mentality remains in Italy. Berlusconi simply took advantage of something that is deep within Italian culture and that won't change in a year.
"But I'm cautiously optimistic – there is a new generation of Italians that travels and lives abroad and they see that things are different overseas."
However, even though Mr Berlsuconi may not be prime minister any more, "il Cavaliere" still controls Italy's commercial television through his Mediaset empire.
"Superficially there is an impression that things have changed dramatically, but I think it's a matter of style more than substance," said Federigo Argentieri, a political scientist at John Cabot University and the director of the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs.
"Berlusconi's macho approach was like something out of the 1950s but it was diffused widely. Italian girls still want to become showgirls and I think that's a reflection of the difficulties in the labour market – it is very hard to achieve that level of success in other ways."
And while the bunga bunga epoch may be over, the Italian showgirl culture lives on, despite the best efforts of Mr Monti's ministers and the new head of the public broadcaster.
When Barack Obama was re-elected president of the United States last week, a lingerie company took out risqué, full-page advertisements in several national newspapers to congratulate him on his win.
"The best is yet to come'" – Congratulations Mr President!" read the ad, which featured a pouting model wearing a pair of pink knickers, black stockings and a Stars and Stripes top.