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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 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 moved to condemn racism on the show.
Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention conference on public service broadcasting, a beleaguered Duncan said at a news 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.
Duncan said there have been only two incidents of possible racial abuse and said that program makers had spoken to contestants Jade Goody and Danielle 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.
Duncan’s comments failed to placate Carphone Warehouse chief executive Charlie Dunstone, who canceled the mobile phone company’s multimillion-pound sponsorship of the Endemol-produced show.
Dunstone said he had spoken with Duncan on the issue and 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 Shetty over the use of a packet of stock (bouillon) cubes.
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.
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