Jerry Springer & blasphemous libel
BBC television’s broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera in January 2005 was met with protests by Christian groups. Maryam Omidi discusses whether the BBC was right to air the programme.
Jerry Springer and the devil (Photo by Roy Blakey under a Creative Commons Attribiution-ShareAlike licence)
BBC television’s broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera in January 2005 was met with protests by Christian groups. Speaking to the BBC, one protester said, “There should be freedom of speech but there should never be freedom for desecration.” A record 63,000 people complained about the programme’s use of profanity and “blasphemous” script; many before the broadcast. Reports place the number of swearwords, including fuck and cunt, at around 400 while the cast of characters includes a nappy-wearing Jesus who confesses he is “a bit gay”.
Three days after the broadcast, radio producer Antony Pitts resigned, saying the BBC had flouted its own guidelines and brushed off complaints. BBC director-general Mark Thompson stood by the corporation’s decision: “I am a practicising Christian, but there is nothing in this which I believe to be blasphemous.” He explains his reasons here.
One organisation, Christian Voice, failed in its efforts to sue the BBC for blasphemous libel after two High Court judges ruled that broadcasters and theatres could not be prosecuted under this offence. They added that as a parody of Jerry Springer, the US chat show, and not of Christianity, the programme could not be deemed blasphemous.