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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 October 2006, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
South Park defends Irwin sketch
Steve Irwin
Steve Irwin was a national hero in Australia
The TV network behind controversial cartoon South Park has defended the latest episode which makes fun of the death of TV naturalist Steve Irwin.

The episode shows a bloody Mr Irwin with the stingray that killed him in September hanging from his chest.

John Beyer, of TV watchdog Mediawatch, called it "grossly insensitive".

Comedy Central said: "The South Park guys do inappropriate things all the time...Their goal is to make people laugh, not to offend people."

In the episode, shown on Comedy Central in the US this week, Mr Irwin is at a Halloween party hosted by the devil.

Other guests include Hitler and Diana, Princess of Wales, but Irwin is thrown out because he is not in fancy dress.

South Park
The stars of South Park are a group of young friends

Tony Fox of Comedy Central said: "We recognise that they [the South Park creators] do a lot of provocative things - is this one of them, probably yes.

"They are largely free to do what they like in terms of creativity and kinds of subject matter, and this is perhaps just another example of that."

The expletive-heavy humour of the cartoon, created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, is considered too close to the bone for many people but loved by many others.

Previous episodes have also caused controversy by making fun of actor Tom Cruise and Scientology, the Virgin Mary and the Prophet Muhammad.

But Mr Beyer said of the Mr Irwin sketch: "Mr Irwin's family are obviously still grieving about their tragic loss and it seems inappropriate to me that South Park should be trying to make some capital out of it.

"To lampoon somebody's death like that is unacceptable, and so soon after the event is grossly insensitive and shows a great deal of disrespect for his family."

The 44-year-old naturalist - known as the Crocodile Hunter - died after being struck in the chest by the stingray's barb while filming a documentary on Queensland's Great Barrier Reef.

He was mourned by thousands of people in Australia, who considered him as a national hero because of his conservation work.

Tributes and donations to his charity Wildlife Warriors also flooded in from around the world and more than 5,000 people attended a memorial service at Mr Irwin's Crocoseum stadium in Queensland.

Tribute to Steve Irwin

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