BBC chief warns against 'extreme' religious agenda

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The BBC's director-general, Mark Thompson, has warned against the growing power of "extremist" religious groups who opposed the broadcast last month of Jerry Springer - The Opera.

In a lecture to the FT New Media and Broadcasting Conference, in London, last night he claimed the corporation must stand up for the "widest range of ideas" in the face of increased pressure from lobby groups.

Mr Thompson, himself a Christian, said the decision to screen a recording of the hit West End musical, which features a nappy-wearing Jesus who claims he "feels a little bit gay", was "both right and important."

Talking about the freedom to screen controversial programmes, he told delegates: "I do believe this openness, along with the wider openness of our whole society, is under threat.

"The voices of those who would wish to limit it seem to be getting more strident.

"Small pressure groups can use the internet, e-mails and other modern communications tools to give a false impression of size and weight.

He said he believed "rage and extremism" appeared to be coming closer to the surface."

A record number of 50,000 complaints were received before and after the programme was screened on BBC2, including protests that the programme was blasphemous.

One religious group, Christian Voice, led a campaign against some BBC executives, publishing their home addresses and phone numbers.