Network apologises for South Park episode

New Zealand television network C4 apologised on Thursday for showing an episode of South Park that featured a bleeding statue of the Virgin Mary, and pledged not to repeat the episode.

The show, titled Bloody Mary, was screened in early February by TV Works — a subsidiary of Canadian-owned Canwest International — on its C4 free-to-air network.

Roman Catholic bishops and church members condemned the decision to air the show, and on Thursday dismissed the channel’s ”so-called sincere apology” as ”self-serving”.

South Park is currently embroiled in a row over the show’s satirical blasts at religion after Isaac Hayes, a Scientologist, left the animated satire over what he described as its religious ”intolerance and bigotry” after it poked fun at Scientology.

Hayes had voiced the show’s Chef character since 1997.

TV Works chief operating officer Rick Friesen said C4 probably would not have screened the Virgin Mary episode if it had known about the amount of offence taken by members of the public.

The screening had prompted more than 100 complaints against the channel.

”C4 acknowledges the strength of feeling in relation to the programme and we sincerely apologise for any offence taken,” he said.

Because of the strong reaction, the company had decided not to take up its rights to repeat the episode, he added.

”We have detected a shift in the public’s perspective on matters of a religious nature, … particularly in relation to religious satire,” he said.

The channel has ”to be sensitive to what viewers want and what they can be offended by,” Friesen said, but added ”it doesn’t mean we’re going to get rid of all offence — that’s not going to happen”.

The company also aired the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad — later apologising for any offence caused to Muslims but refusing to give a commitment to not rescreen the offending material.

Catholic Church spokesperson Lyndsay Freer said the company knew from letters from leaders of Christian and other faiths ahead of the screening that the episode ”would give deep and widespread offence — yet they went ahead”.

”Canwest was wrong and now seeks to restore its position with a semi-apology,” Freer said. – Sapa-AP

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