Italy summoned Russia's ambassador Monday after Moscow alleged the Italian media were waging an anti-Russian propaganda campaign through its coverage of the Ukraine war.
The foreign ministry in Rome said it called in ambassador Sergey Razov to reject "insinuations regarding the alleged involvement of our country's media in an anti-Russian campaign."
The ministry's top civil servant, Ettore Francesco Sequi, also "firmly rejected accusations of amorality by some representatives of Italian institutions and media, expressed in recent statements by the Russian foreign ministry."
The spat follows the posting Saturday on the Russian embassy to Italy's Facebook page of purported extracts from a report by the Russian foreign ministry on the "violation of Russian citizens' rights" abroad.
It slammed "an open anti-Russian campaign in the Italian media" since Moscow's February invasion of Ukraine, a "biased approach" which it said "has a key influence on the attitude of Italians towards Russians".
The "great campaign launched in Italy against Russian culture and its representatives has led to a series of unpleasant incidents", it said, including alleged discrimination in the healthcare and banking sectors.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Sunday insisted the media were "saying what happens, that Russia has used over 2,000 missiles against Ukraine, that 200 children have died".
Prime Minister Mario Draghi has strongly backed sanctions against Moscow, though parts of his coalition government have long nurtured close relations with the Kremlin and have been slow to condemn the war.
Parliament's security committee, Copasir, has opened an investigation into allegations of pro-Russian propaganda by some media, accused of giving significant airtime to Russian "disinformation".