Seeing red: watchdog reveals the most complained about shows on television

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The Independent Online

Nothing puts a bulge in the complaints postbag of the television watchdog quite like a programme on homosexuality. Except, that is, a perceived attack on the Christian religion.

Martin Scorsese's film The Last Temptation of Christ heads a list of the 12 most complained about programmes since 1991, compiled by the Independent Television Commission (ITC). On it is Spitting Image's latex portrayal of God in 1992, as well as a documentary that was deemed disrespectful to Mother Teresa and programmes that have showed gays kissing, having relationships and getting married.

The ITC released the details on the eve of its replacement by the all-encompassing communications watchdog, Ofcom. Of the 1,554 complaints against The Last Temptation of Christ, 90 per cent were sent in before the film was broadcast. The film, in which Jesus Christ (played by Willem Dafoe) was depicted having sexual fantasies about Mary Magdalene, was broadcast by Channel 4 in 1995. The complaints were not upheld. Second on the list was Brass Eye, for its spoof broadcast on paedophilia in 2001. The ITC, which does not deal with BBC programmes, had some 992 complaints against the satirical show, and a similar number in support. The watchdog said that Brass Eye had given insufficient pre-broadcast warning and had offended public feeling. Spitting Image's God puppet - with its booming voice - brought 341 complaints, which were upheld in part. Several programmes were under fire for portraying homosexual relationships. The Bill received 170 complaints for its first gay kiss in 2002. Channel 4's 1999 gay drama Queer as Folk prompted 163 complaints and This Morning enraged 117 viewers by showing a gay wedding in 2001. None of the complaints were upheld. Animals were another sensitive issue. The ITC supported the 860 complainants who objected to a Wrigley commercial showing a man regurgitating a dog, intended to symbolise his bad breath. Bias against a subject, in this case the environmental lobby, informed the 151 complaints about Against Nature. In Undercover Britain, 123 complainants felt that the gun lobby had been showed too much favouritism.

In a broadly similar case the ITC did not uphold that John Pilger's documentary, Palestine is Still the Issue, lacked impartiality and was pro-Palestinian, as suggested by the 116 complaints.

A trailer for the Uefa Champions' League 2003 was deemed to set a bad example by showing a young boy flicking potato at his grandmother.

And among the many complaints about Living With Michael Jackson there were many that felt he had been unfairly treated.

The ITC has so far logged 550 complaints about a recent Mr Kipling advertisement that appears to show the Virgin Mary crying out in labour. It has yet to make its ruling.

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