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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April, 2004, 07:23 GMT 08:23 UK
Pushing the TV boundaries
By Keily Oakes
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Channel 4's programme containing footage of a woman undergoing an abortion, My Foetus, has sparked complaints ahead of its broadcast on Tuesday.

Professor Gunther von Hagens
Professor Gunther von Hagens' live autopsy caused a furore
My Foetus follows a long tradition of broadcasters pushing the boundaries of taste and decency - and inevitably sparking controversy.

The documentary has already upset some sections of the Roman Catholic church, which called it abhorrent, while TV scientist Professor Robert Winston questioned whether it was "an absolutely valid TV exercise".

He was subject to criticism of his Human Body series, which showed the moment of a man's death. Much of the criticism came before the programme was shown - and it went on to win a number of Baftas.

In a similar vein, Channel 4's screening of a live autopsy in November 2002 by Professor Gunther von Hagens, the man behind the Body Worlds exhibitions, generated 130 complaints.

Channel 4 defended the programme, which went out at 2345 GMT, saying the event was of "genuine public interest".

Despite the protests, the Independent Television Commission (ITC) dismissed the complaints.

Body parts

In its adjudication, it said: "Although the subject matter and content of the programme approached the limits of what is allowed by the programme code, those limits were not exceeded."

Many controversial programmes have related to human body parts.
Brass Eye
Brass Eye was one of the most controversial shows on UK TV

There was a press storm in January 1999 when, on This Morning, Doctor Chris Steele conducted a testicular examination of volunteer Alan Reeves on camera to publicise the dangers of testicular cancer.

The ITC rules at the time said genitalia should not be shown unless for "responsible medical reasons".

Richard and Judy also provoked a storm when they featured couples experimenting with Viagra - although no sex scenes were actually shown.

Country TV chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall caused an outcry when he devised a recipe for a family using the placenta of their newborn baby.

Nine viewers complained, including a Labour MP, and the Broadcasting Standards Commission upheld them because it breached a taboo "which would have been disagreeable to many".

Channel 4 landed in the headlines again in 2002 with the now infamous episode of Brass Eye in which creator Chris Morris spoofed a documentary about paedophilia.

It attracted 1,500 complaints, including the NSPCC, and the ITC made the rare decision to force Channel 4 to apologise.

Sweeping changes

The bulk of complaints were about Brass Eye's apparent mocking of a serious and sensitive subject and too little warning given about the nature of the programme.

Despite the furore, Brass Eye went on to be nominated for a Bafta.

Magician Derren Brown's Russian Roulette stunt - in which he claimed to fire a gun at his head - also caused the Channel 4 hotline to ring with complaints over trivialising suicide and the promotion of gun culture.

Janet Jackson
Janet Jackson' s flash has seen changes to US TV broadcasts
But complaints about his televised trick were not upheld as the broadcasting watchdog said it was an illusion and did not glamorise guns.

But no UK TV programme can compete with the furore caused by Janet Jackson' s "wardrobe malfunction", which saw her nipple exposed during the live Super Bowl - sparking more than 200,000 complaints.

The backlash has led to sweeping changes to US live broadcasts, with time-delays now widely employed and a rise in potential fines for networks that breach guidelines.

Storm expected over abortion film
20 Apr 04  |  Entertainment
US broadcasters fight indecency
02 Apr 04  |  Entertainment
TV gun stunt complaints rejected
04 Dec 03  |  Entertainment
Brass Eye fuels rocketing complaints
15 Jul 02  |  Entertainment
TV satire sparks 1,500 complaints
27 Jul 01  |  Entertainment
Channel 4 defends abortion film
05 Apr 04  |  Entertainment

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