U.K. Media Regulator Investigating 'Big Brother' Bullying, Racism Complaints
Ofcom says it has mounted a probe after receiving 1,200-plus complaints about the Channel 5 show, including a scene that showed one housemate calling another "a piece of sh-t."
LONDON – Britain's Channel 5 is in hot water with U.K. media regulator Ofcom after the broadcaster's Big Brother garnered more than 1,200 recent complaints over its content.
On-air bullying, comments criticized as racist and the description of one of the housemates as a "retard" have led to the latest complaints about the U.K. version of the global hit format from reality TV producer Endemol.
Ofcom said it has launched an investigation to look into all the incidents, including one in which housemate Conor McIntyre launched a tirade of insults against Miss India U.K. contestant Deana Uppal. The regulator told The Hollywood Reporter that this tirade alone prompted 1,108 complaints, with many viewers saying it amounted to bullying.
McIntyre was warned about his behavior by the Big Brother producers after using a string of expletives and calling his housemate "a piece of shit." The incident occurred during the June 25 episode.
Another incident on June 28 involved a female housemate calling a black contestant a "ridiculous gorilla" with "no sanitation." Ofcom said it registered 114 complaints from viewers about the remark, which was perceived as racist.
And on July 4, a former Big Brother housemate appeared on spinoff show Big Brother's Bit on the Side and referred to the other contestants as functioning "retards," which prompted three complaints to Ofcom, according to the regulator.
A Channel 5 spokesman said the broadcaster is committed to complying with Ofcom's broadcasting code and "will help to facilitate a speedy investigation into this particular episode of Big Brother and Big Brother's Bit on the Side."
Ofcom's current investigation into the show is not the first run-in that the regulator and the format have had in the U.K.
Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty found herself at the center of a race row when a version of the show was aired by Channel 4 in 2007. The channel was forced to apologize to viewers for racism on the reality show Celebrity Big Brother but escaped financial consequences after Ofcom deemed it guilty of "serious editorial misjudgment" in the matter.
The broadcaster then was found guilty of breaching editorial guidelines by allowing the bullying of Shetty, who ended up winning the celebrity edition of the show after at one point being referred to as "Shilpa Poppadom."
The public firestorm over the events generated more than 50,000 complaints to the broadcaster and regulators as well as drawing criticism from then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Indian government at the time.