Quebec producers apologize for Obama jokes

TV special also spoofed victim of sexual assault

TORONTO -- The Quebec producers of a New Year's Eve TV special on Radio-Canada that mocked both U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and a high-profile sexual assault victim have publicly apologized after a barrage of protests.

Veronique Cloutier and Louis Morissette, the Montreal-based producers of "Le Bye Bye," a popular end-of-year ritual on Canada's French-language public broadcaster, denied any racist intent when presenting a comedy sketch that included references to Obama's skin color, the phrase "all blacks look alike" and the idea that the president-elect might be inclined to steal purses from the audience.

The actor playing Obama's interviewer also suggested that having a black president in the White House was helpful because a black man is more visible and easier to assassinate.

"We're sorry that we shocked people," Cloutier, who co-hosted the show, said at a Montreal news conference about the race-based satire.

The producers also apologized for spoofing Nathalie Simard, a popular Quebec singer who was sexually abused as a child by manager Guy Cloutier, who also is Montreal TV producer Veronique Cloutier's father.

Guy Cloutier was convicted of sexual abuse of Simard and sentenced to jail in 2004.

Veronique Cloutier insisted she did not aim at revenge against Nathalie Simard with the inappropriate sketch.

"Radio-Canada recognizes this year's (Bye Bye) edition contained elements that might not be to everyone's taste," the public broadcaster said in its own statement, adding that it had the right to uphold creative expression.