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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 August 2005, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
TV happy to offend, group claims
By Tom Bishop
BBC News entertainment staff in Edinburgh

Jerry Springer - The Opera
Jerry Springer - The Opera featured Jesus and God as chat show guests

Broadcasters in the UK are happy to offend their viewers, a Christian group has told the Edinburgh TV Festival.

"If they know we may be offended by a programme, they have the chance to stop it," said Christian Voice national director Stephen Green. "But they just keep going."

Mr Green said the BBC ignored 47,000 viewer complaints before it screened Jerry Springer: The Opera in January.

The opera's writer, Stewart Lee, said he was determined the show's national tour would go ahead, despite protests from Christian groups.

The show angered some viewers by depicting Jesus, God and Mary as talk show guests in Hell, prompting pickets of BBC offices before its broadcast.

"We all might cause offence through ignorance," said Mr Green, "but I am worried that there are people working in television who know something is going to be offensive and then just go ahead and show it."


BBC director of television Jana Bennett said the opera was shown after winning "all the plaudits it could" on its West End theatrical release.

"We judged it was very good and worth offering up to the public who could choose to watch it or not," she said.

Ms Bennett said the offence registered before the opera's broadcast could have only been "hypothetical" because viewers had yet to see the show.

"You do not need to see a murder to know that harm has been caused," replied Mr Green.

He said it was "odd" to suggest that viewers' protests against TV programmes are undermined if organised by a single group such as Christian Voice.

I was hoping to make money by touring the opera, but I was also hoping it would encourage a series of discussions and debates around the country.
Stewart Lee

"That would be like saying that the more protests there are, the less attention you are going to pay them."

Mr Green referred to media regulator Ofcom - which ruled that the opera did not break rules on TV standards - as "a bunch of media time-servers".

Mr Lee said his opera had received "a lot of support" from other religious organisations, including the Catholic Voice and Catholic Herald.

"I have to be careful not to accuse all Christians of ignorance and bigotry," he said. "Some Christian groups are fine."

Mr Lee said he wanted a UK tour of the opera to go ahead as planned, despite its funding being pulled by the Arts Council of England.

Earlier this month the arts funding body denied its decision was influenced by a Christian Voice campaign urging regional theatres to boycott the show.

"What has happened to the tour so far upsets and offends me," said Lee.

"Yes - I was hoping to make money by touring the opera, but I was also hoping it would encourage a series of discussions and debates around the country."

Mr Lee hoped to find "some way" of go ahead with the tour. "If that means I don't get paid for doing it, that will be fine," he said.

  • At a discussion on music television at the TV festival, it was announced that MTV plans to launch an internet-based music channel that can be "personalised" by its viewers.

    Provisionally entitled My MTV, it would be accessed via broadband internet and would enable viewers to rearrange programme schedules and create their own home pages.

    In the same discussion on music television, Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan said the channel had no plans to create a major music show, in the vein of Top of the Pops or The Tube.

    It would continue to broadcast a number of smaller, "distinctive" music shows instead. "If a peak-time music show would get four to five million viewers, we would be doing a lot more of them," he said.

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