Ofcom rejects complaints over two programmes

 The media regulator Ofcom has ruled that the BBC's controversial screening of Jerry Springer: The Opera did not break rules on TV standards. In Scotland, complaints about a radio programme which the Catholic Church raised concerns about, were also dismissed. More than 55,000 people complained to Ofcom before the Jerry Springer show was broadcast on BBC Two in January. A further 8,860 protested. The musical depicted figures from the Bible, including Jesus and the Devil, as guests on Springer's combative talk show. Viewers complained that it contained obscene imagery and language and particularly attacked Christianity. "Ofcom recognises that a large number of people were deeply offended by the transmission," Ofcom said. But it argued the show was "an important work and commentary" on modern TV. In March, the corporation rejected the complaints, saying the artistic significance outweighed any offence. Ofcom has now backed up that view, examining the musical against 12 sections of its code but deciding there were no breaches. Ofcom said: "Freedom of expression is particularly important in the context of artistic works, beliefs, philosophy and argument." Most offensive language was "well after" the watershed, clear warnings were given and the offensive section was part of a "dream" sequence, Ofcom said. Of the 8,860 complaints made after the broadcast, 4,264 came from Christian broadcaster and publisher Premier Media Group. In Scotland yesterday, Ofcom decided not to uphold a complaint made against the BBC by the Scottish Catholic Media Office. Media Office Director, Peter Kearney said: "On 12 January 2005, I complained to Ofcom about the 6.11.04 edition of BBC Radio Scotland's " Off The Ball" programme, which I considered offensive. In the course of this irreverent football phone-in programme, one of the presenters read out an offensive message sent in by a listener. The presenters had asked listeners to send in suggestions on what would be suitable items with which to "pelt" unsuccessful football managers." "It was shocking to hear that the comment from one listener, that Tommy Burns, former Celtic Manager & Asst. Scotland Manager (who is a Catholic) should be pelted with "Communion Wafers". This is a profane and disrespectful reference to the Eucharist a sacrament at the heart of Catholic religious belief. The offence caused was compounded by the fact that the comment was not in the form of a live phone in remark but instead was 'filtered' and chosen from a variety of responses. I believed BBC Scotland breached their own Producer's Guidelines on 'Religious Sensibilities' and caused serious offence." Mr Kearney added: "I am deeply concerned that Ofcom has not upheld this complaint despite the fact that the BBC have admitted that the e-mail "should not have been selected for broadcast" and that "editorial supervision had not been as stringent as usual". The BBC acknowledge in their own producers guidelines, section 6 "Taste and Decency", paragraph 9, "religious sensibilities"; "deep offence will also be caused by profane reference or disrespect, whether verbal or visual, directed at deities, scriptures, holy days and rituals." "This broadcast has without question breached these guidelines yet Ofcom consider an admission of error on the part of the BBC resolves the issue. "This judgement leaves the regulator open to accusations of timidity and toothlessness, further they have stated that they "consider that the matter is now resolved" a judgement they reach without any reference to the complainant. This is simply ludicrous in no other complaints process could a resolution be judged to have been reached without the agreement of the complainant. This office will now contact Ofcom to obtain details of their appeals process in the hope that this unsatisfactory judgement can be reversed." Source: BBC/Scottish Catholic Media Office

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