BBC rejects complaints over Springer opera

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The Independent Online

BBC governors have rejected 63,000 viewer complaints about Jerry Springer - The Opera and ruled the BBC was right to show it.

BBC governors have rejected 63,000 viewer complaints about Jerry Springer - The Opera and ruled the BBC was right to show it.

The controversial musical sparked outrage and accusations of blasphemy when it was screened earlier this year.

The governors' five-strong Programme Complaints Committee ruled today that the "outstanding artistic significance" of the work outweighed the offence it caused.

But one Governor, a prominent Christian, broke ranks and said she "profoundly disagreed" with the decision.

Angela Sarkis, vice-president of the African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance and former chief executive of the Church Urban Fund, said the religious references "would have been considered literal portrayal of holy figures by many people".

The musical featured a nappy-wearing Jesus declaring he was "a little bit gay", and described Mary as being "raped by an angel, raped by God".

However, Ms Sarkis accepted that the decision not to uphold the complaints was passed by a majority of 4-1.

The BBC received 55,000 complaints prior to transmission and 8,000 after it was shown.

But the Committee opted not to consider the 55,000 pre-transmission complaints when making their report because the complainants had not seen the programme. In its report, the Committee noted that "a proportion of them appeared to be part of an organised email campaign".

Pressure group Christian Voice had campaigned against the screening of the programme.

Ms Sarkis sat on the Committee alongside former ITN editor-in-chief Richard Tait, historian and broadcaster Professor Merfyn Jones, Northern Ireland representative Professor Fabien Monds and ballet dancer Deborah Bull.

"The offence - particularly the offence to religious beliefs - caused to sizeable numbers of people should not be underestimated or taken lightly," they concluded.

"Reasonable and comprehensive attempts were made to minimise offence through appropriate scheduling, clear warnings, and the use of other programmes prior to the broadcast to set the piece in context.

"The BBC is committed to freedom of expression, and has a duty to innovate, to reflect new and challenging ideas, and to make available to its audiences work of outstanding artistic significance.

"In all the circumstances, the outstanding artistic significance of the programme outweighed the offence which it caused to some viewers and so the broadcasting of the programme was justified."

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