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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006, 10:10 GMT
Catholics urge South Park boycott
South Park
South Park began its run in 1997
Catholic church leaders in New Zealand are urging a boycott of a broadcaster planning to screen an "ugly and tasteless" episode of South Park.

The episode of the US animation, called Bloody Mary, depicts a bleeding statue of the Virgin Mary.

The country's prime minister, Helen Clark, said she had not seen the show but that it sounded "revolting".

TV station C4 is to air the cartoon earlier than planned in response to the levels of publicity it has generated.

The episode was originally scheduled for a screening in May, but will now be shown on 22 February.

Potential backlash

New Zealand's Catholic bishops signed a letter on Sunday urging the country's 500,000 Catholics to boycott C4 and its sister station TV3, which recently apologised for showing the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

They asked for the ban to extend to companies that advertise their products on the commercial network.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark
New Zealand PM Helen Clark said the episode sounded "revolting"

"Making known the extent of our offence might give them pause to consider that press freedom is not a licence to incite intolerance or to promote hated or derision based on religion, race or gender," the letter said.

Rick Friesen, head of TV Works, which runs C4, said that if Catholics felt they would be upset by South Park, then they should not watch it.

Prime Minister Clark added the company was free to screen the programme, but should weigh that freedom against a potential backlash of viewers.

The episode of South Park caused a backlash when it was screened in the US.

The series, which has been running since 1997, tells the story of four boys in the dysfunctional Colorado town and regularly deals with sensitive subjects and sends up famous figures.

George Clooney has played the role of a dog, while Osama Bin Laden was killed in an episode of the programme.

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