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Protesters oppose planned BBC broadcast of Jerry Springer opera

Protesters oppose planned BBC broadcast of Jerry Springer opera

Christian protesters set fire to their television licenses outside the BBC's London offices on Friday as outrage spread over the public broadcaster's plans to air a profanity-laden musical. In the award-winning London show Jerry Springer--The Opera, viewers can watch a diaper fetishist confess all to his true love, catch a tap dance routine by the Ku Klux Klan, and see Jesus and the devil locked in a swearing match. Michael Reid, a pastor and self-styled bishop who organized the peaceful demonstration ahead of the airing on Saturday evening, called the musical "filth." "The use of foul language together with mocking Jesus Christ and portraying him wearing a nappy with sequins is highly offensive to Christians, and we felt that it was totally wrong," he told Reuters. He said the British Broadcasting Corporation, which is funded by license fees from the public, would not risk upsetting minority faiths in Britain like Islam or Buddhism. "Because we are Christians, they think we are fair game for any insults," he added after dozens of people burned licenses. The spat, which has made front-page news in the British tabloid press, comes less than a month after hundreds of angry Sikh protesters stormed a theater in Birmingham and forced it to scrap a play depicting sexual abuse in a Sikh temple. U.S. actor David Soul, who stars in the musical, went on air to defend the BBC's decision, which has prompted over 30,000 complaints from the public even before it has been shown. "Believe me, this show would never have gotten to where it is today if it was simply about blasphemy and bad language," he told BBC radio. "I'm a Christian, and I certainly don't see it as blasphemy at all," said Soul, famous for his role in the Starsky and Hutch police series. The musical, written by British composer Richard Thomas and comedian Stewart Lee, is based on Springer's brash American talk show whose lurid topics ranged from "Honey, I'm a Call Girl" to "Bring on the Bisexuals." Religious leaders fear the hundreds of swear words the Springer show contains would cause offense when broadcast. Ofcom, the independent regulator of television and radio in Britain, said it had received 7,000 complaints so far. The next highest total was in 1995, when 1,600 people contacted Ofcom's predecessor to complain about the airing of the controversial movie The Last Temptation of Christ. "The level of protest is unprecedented," John Beyer, director of viewers' lobby group Mediawatch, told Reuters. "An awful lot of people who pay their license fee wonder if this should be put on." British viewers pay around 120 pounds ($225) a year for their color television licenses. A BBC spokeswoman said the corporation had no plans to take the show off the air, despite receiving approximately 30,000 e-mails, calls, and letters, the vast majority of which were critical. "People say to us, 'Why can't you treat us like adults, it's our choice, why don't you let us choose what we see and hear?'" said BBC director general Mark Thompson. "We get attacked from both sides on this. The key thing for us is our commitment to the watershed, which is a commitment that programs shown before 9 o'clock will be suitable for children to watch in a family context," he told the BBC.

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