Italy, which has at least 2.4 million immigrants who account for 4% of the population, lags behind most of Western Europe in terms of integrating ethnic minorities in the media.

Newspapers, radio and local broadcasters have in recent years opened up space, but there are still few diversity-themed TV programs, and just a couple of non-Italo journos who appear regularly on pubcaster RAI, and none on Mediaset.

As far as programming, the main RAI show about immigration is “Un Mondo a Colori,” produced by RAI Educational, which airs on RAI-2 in a morning slot and is emblematic of the current state of affairs.

The format for “Colori” was conceived by Congolese journo and academic Jean-Leonard Touadi as a multicultural window on the world of immigrants living in a changing Italy using reports by multi-ethnic journos, commented in-studio by Touadi and others.

But after running the show for several years, in 2003 Touadi and the show’s ethnic journos were fired by current RAI Educational topper Giovanni Minoli. “Colori” is now entirely produced and anchored by Italians.

“It’s become a show by Italians who talk about immigrants,” laments Touadi. “Basically an attempt to condemn us to silence.

“We want to be part of the debate about us — not a topic that is talked about in our absence.”

Besides “Colori,” RAI has another immigration-themed show called “Shukran,” which runs on Saturday at lunch-time on RAI-3, also run by Italian journos.

To counter this kind of muzzle from mainstream media, minorities have pursued lots of smaller outlets, like local radio and TV slots. But this has forced them to launch programs catering to their specific ethnic groups, such as a Senegalese or a Mandarin news show, rather than target a broader aud.

“Basically, immigrants are being ghetto-ized,” says Anna Meli, of Florence-based immigration advocacy agency Cospes.

“Very few have been hired by national media, which usually air those shows as filler in the worst slots.”

Meli also laments that in reporting about immigrants national news outlets often typecast them as being “either pitiably underdeveloped, or criminals.”

There are no legislative initiatives in Italy to address the issue of including minorities in the media.

“In other European countries there is a debate on these issues which is practically non-existent in Italy,” says Meli.

The only anchorman on RAI is Congolese journo Fidel Mbanga Bauna, who reads the news on leftist RAI-3’s regional TG-Lazio.

In print media, paradoxically, the Gulf war, 9/11, and the Iraq conflict have been beneficial to helping inclusion of journos from the Arab world in the country’s main newspapers and boosting their careers. Native Italian Muslim world expert Magdi Allam, whose family is from Egypt, was recently appointed deputy director of the major daily Corriere della Sera.

RAI satellite web RAI News 24 has also launched a show called RAI-Med, entirely dedicated to the Arab world, half of which is conducted in Arabic.

In TV dramas and reality shows the situation is slightly more encouraging.

“Lots of the contempo dramas on both RAI and Mediaset have their token immigrant as a side character to add a little color – pardon the pun,” says Massimo Ghirelli, who heads Rome-based activist group Archivio dell’Immigrazione.

Significantly, the latest edition of “Big Brother” included an ethnic Chinese, the first time a contestant from a minority group entered the “house” here.

Film is somewhat different.

While there is just one prominent ethnic helmer, Ferzan Ozpetek, all of whose pics have a message of social tolerance — though not particularly focused on immigrant issues – multi-culturalism has featured prominently as a theme.

Most emblematic of this is Marco Tullio Giordana’s “Once You’re Born,” about a rich Italian boy who is saved by illegal immigrants after falling off his father’s yacht.

Though the Berlusconi government has certainly not been an agent of change, according to Touadi it’s not a matter of right or left.

“First and foremost, it’s a cultural issue. This is a provincial country that needs to evolve culturally and gain an awareness of what’s going on in the world.”