/ 17 January 2007

UK police probe Big Brother threats in racism row

Police are investigating threats against Celebrity Big Brother housemates after an outburst of public concern over alleged racist bullying of Indian Bollywood siren Shilpa Shetty on the British show.

Almost 10 000 viewers have complained about the treatment of Shetty (31) who has been called a ”dog” since the reality television series started barely two weeks ago.

The controversy made headlines in British and Indian newspapers on Wednesday and has even spilled on to the floor of the House of Commons, Britain’s lower chamber of Parliament.

Police in Hertfordshire, north of London, said two e-mailed threats had been sent to the show’s broadcaster Channel 4.

”[They] contain unspecified threats against a number of the housemates. Police are currently looking in to the e-mails,” a spokesperson said late on Tuesday.

Detectives also received a telephone call complaining about ”alleged racist behaviour” on the programme, he said. The caller was referred to the media watchdog Ofcom.

Shetty, an A-list Bollywood actress, has been reduced to tears in the Big Brother house, a purpose-built complex of rooms and a garden where the nine remaining housemates are living.

Public outrage

Ofcom has received 7 600 complaints from viewers concerned that housemates, including reality TV star Jade Goody, former beauty queen Danielle Lloyd and ex-S Club 7 singer Jo O’Meara, were victimising Shetty, media reported on Wednesday.

A further 2 000 e-mail and telephone complaints were made directly to Channel 4, they said.

The broadcaster said it took matters of racism and bullying seriously. ”Shilpa herself has not voiced any concerns of racial slurs or bullying against her,” Channel 4 said in a statement.

The boss of Carphone Warehouse, a cellphone retailer, said his firm was reviewing its sponsorship of the programme, according to the Times.

”The sponsorship is constantly under review. Clearly, we are against racism,” Charles Dunstone told the paper.

Lawmaker Keith Vaz put forward an early day motion in Parliament, saying: ”We would not tolerate this kind of racism on any other type of television programme”.

Filmed by hidden cameras, the antics of the housemates can be watched 24 hours a day, with highlights played every evening.

The housemates alone remain unaware of the furore in the outside world which — if nothing else — will likely boost the show’s viewing figures. – Reuters