ROME (AFP) - An Italian government campaign hoping to boost the country's flagging birth rate was condemned as racist just weeks after its original promotional material was panned for being sexist.
Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin ordered changes to the campaign at the start of September after captioned images intended to promote an upcoming Fertility Day were denounced as patronising, sexist and hectoring.
But on Wednesday (Sept 21) she was forced to pull one of the replacement images which had been intended to promote a healthy lifestyle by juxtaposing images of "good" and "bad" lifestyles.
In the first photograph, white, smiling couples relax by the sea, while in the second one a mixed group including dark-skinned youths with Afro hair smoke cigarettes, light up a bong and appear to be sniffing drugs.
The photographs, captioned "good habits to get into" and "bad friends to let go of", set off another media storm, with users ridiculing the ministry for simply having swapped sexism for racism.
Ms Lorenzin released a statement saying she was launching an internal investigation and had sacked the ministry's communications director.
Italy has the lowest birthrate in the European Union and one of the lowest in the world, with only eight babies born for every 1,000 residents in 2015, according to EU figures released in July.
A total of 485,000 babies were born in Italy last year, a record low and less than half the level of the 1960s.
Ms Lorenzin warned earlier this year that the current "catastrophic decline" would reduce the number of newborns to 350,000 a year within a decade unless action was taken to reverse the trend.
But critics of the campaign have focused on the numerous obstacles to having children in Italy, including high unemployment, low wages, weak maternity rights and inadequate childcare provision.