Monday, May 09, 2005
The media watchdog has cleared the BBC of flouting broadcasting guidelines by televising 'Jerry Springer: the Opera', which attracted a record 16,801 complaints.
Ofcom said an investigation by its content board - the highest level at which complaints are considered - had concluded the show was an "important work" and did not breach its codes.The broadcast was widely criticised by evangelical groups such as the Evangelical Alliance and Christian Voice, some of whom saw the show as "blasphemous" and offensive to Christians.Other religious groups such as the thinktank Ekklesia, however suggested that Christians were missing a vital opportunity to engage with important themes such as the problem of evil and ideas of redmemption.
In in TV and radio interviews, Ekklesia's director Jonathan Bartley also pointed out that the characters in the show were not supsed to be faithful or accurate representations of religious figures, but were characterisations of the show's participants.
The regulator said it had received and replied to 7,941 requests prior to the show's broadcast on January 8 on BBC2 and a further 8,860 following transmission, including 4,264 emails via the Premier Media Group which runs London's Premier Radio - a Christian radio station.The radio station issued a press release about the Opera entitled 'Ban This Sick Show' and gave out the details of the BBC's complaints department on air four times an hour, causing the BBC to complain in kind to Premier for causing their switchboards to jam.
But Ofcom said the BBC had given "clear pre-transmission warnings about the content of the programme", which in its view "did not gratuitously humiliate individuals or any groups... in particular the Christian community".
The regulator said the programme was "appropriately scheduled well after the watershed" and the strongest language relegated until after 10.30pm and directed at the character of Satan."
This was a programme that satirised modern day 'confessional shows' where such language is commonplace... the language was to be expected and could be understood in such context."
Ofcom said it had sought to achieve "the appropriate balance" between harm to religious beliefs and the need to safeguard "freedom of expression".
In clearing the BBC, the regulator said the scene involving Jesus in nappies was a "dream sequence" in which characters in the first act played out a "cartoon full of grotesque images" in the style of the Jerry Springer Show format."
In light of this, Ofcom did not believe the characters represented were, in the context of this piece, conveyed as faithful or accurate representations of religious figures, but were characterisations of the show's participants."
Christian groups said they were disappointed with the ruling. Peter Kerridge, chief executive of Premier Christian Radio, described the decision as a "slap in the face for traditional Christian faith and practice".
He added: "I am extremely disappointed by Ofcom's decision. Freedom of expression should never be sufficient reason to attack the values of any section of the community and this particular programme appeared to set out to do this to people of Christian faith."
The BBC welcomed the ruling, which came weeks after its governors also cleared the show."We are pleased at the finding that Jerry Springer: the Opera was not in breach of Ofcom's code," said a spokesman."We believe that Ofcom and the GPCC's [governors programme complaints committee] earlier adjudication recognise the importance of freedom of artistic expression."
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