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High Court rejects attempt to prosecute BBC over Jerry Springer

LONDON - Almost three years after the BBC showed 'Jerry Springer - The Opera', the High Court has dismissed an attempt by a Christian group to prosecute director-general Mark Thompson for blasphemy.

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The programme caused a furore among Christians and attracted a record 63,000 complaints when BBC Two showed it in January 2005.

They were upset by the use of swearwords alongside references to God and Jesus and other aspects of the show such as Eve putting her hand under Jesus's loincloth, a suggestion that Jesus was gay and a satirical re-enactment of the crucifixion.

Christian Voice, the group that wanted to bring the prosecution, said the show was "an offensive, spiteful, systematic mockery and wilful denigration of Christian belief" and "clearly crossed the blasphemy threshold".

However, the High Court judges today ruled the programme "as a whole was not and could not reasonably be regarded as aimed at, or an attack on, Christianity or what Christians held sacred" and Christian Voice could not prosecute.

The BBC put out the following statement: "We are pleased to note the High Court's decision today. We note the court's decision that a private criminal prosecution for blasphemy in relation to 'Jerry Springer - The Opera' had no prospect of success and should not proceed.

"The BBC took the decision to broadcast 'Jerry Springer - The Opera' after the most careful consideration. We believe the work, taken in its proper context, satirises and attacks exploitative chat shows and not the Christian religion. The court's judgement today vindicates that decision in full.

"Today's decision addresses the way the law of blasphemy applies to broadcasters, and the Court has found that criminal prosecutions for blasphemy should not be permitted in relation to broadcasts. This is an important decision in the defence of free speech. We, of course, believe that broadcasters should continue to exercise great care and sensitivity when dealing with potential religious offence, and that has not changed.

"It is a matter of regret that considerable public money has been spent on a case with no merit. The BBC had no choice but to defend this case, but in our view it should never have been brought."

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