Duncan stands firm as 'Brother' sponsor bolts

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LONDON -- Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan has refused to back down over alleged racist comments on "Celebrity Big Brother" despite viewer complaints, a police investigation and the multimillion-pound cancellation of the program's main sponsorship deal.

Duncan commented on the snowballing affair a day after Prime Minister Tony Blair, Treasury Secretary Gordon Brown and India's external affairs minister Anand Sharma all moved to condemn racism on the show.

Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention conference on public service broadcasting, a beleaguered Duncan said at a press conference that he had "no intention" of pulling the controversial show, which has generated more than 30,000 complaints to Channel 4 and media regulator Ofcom.

"What constitutes racism is a complex question," Duncan said. "We have been monitoring extremely carefully events in the house and have reached the view that we cannot with certainty say that the notes directed at Shilpa have been racially motivated or whether they stem from broader cultural and social differences."

Viewers have complained in droves over what they say is a campaign of bullying against Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty by three other contestants: reality star Jade Goody, celebrity girlfriend Danielle Lloyd and former singer Jo O'Meara.

Duncan said there have only been two incidents of possible racial abuse on the show and said that program makers had spoken to contestants Goody and Lloyd about their behavior.

"The latest (season) of 'Celebrity Big Brother' has strayed into particularly controversial territory -- the issue of racism and whether or not it remains ingrained in British attitudes despite all the progress we have apparently made toward becoming a truly multicultural society," Duncan said, adding that the program had touched "a real nerve."

"The debate has been heated, the viewing has at times been uncomfortable but, in my view, it is unquestionably a good thing that the program has raised these issues and provoked such a debate," he said. "These attitudes, however distasteful, do persist -- we need to confront that truth."

Duncan's comments failed to placate Carphone Warehouse chief executive Charlie Dunstone, who canceled the mobile phone company's sponsorship of the Endemol-produced show.

"Our concern has rapidly mounted about the broadcast behavior of individuals within the 'Big Brother' house," Dunstone said in a statement. "We are totally against all forms of racism and bullying and indeed this behavior is entirely at odds with the brand values of the Carphone Warehouse. As a result, we feel that, as long as this continues, we are unable to associate our brand with the program."

Dunstone said he had spoken with Channel 4 chief executive Duncan on the issue, and had decided to cancel the contract because the bullying continued.

"We had already made it clear to Channel 4 that were this to continue, we would have to consider our position. Nothing we saw last night gave us any comfort," Dunstone said.

Thursday's show saw the three white girls getting into a row with the Bollywood actress over the use of a packet of stock cubes.

"You're not some princess in fucking Neverland," said Goody, as the others looked on. "Shut yourself up or go and fucking cry ... you're a liar, a liar and a fake."

After the exchange, Lloyd said: "That fucking brightened my day up, I'm telling you. She should fuck off home. She can't even speak English properly."

Meanwhile, police in Hertfordshire, where the show is filmed, have formally recorded the abuse of Shetty as a racial incident, potentially leading to a prosecution under hate crimes legislation.

"Hertfordshire Constabulary is investigating allegations of racist behavior in the 'Big Brother' house and will be conducting inquiries including a review of the tapes," a police statement said. "We will continue to closely monitor the situation over the next few days."
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