Security has been stepped up at the London theatre staging Jerry Springer: the Opera as the controversy over the BBC’s decision to broadcast the production intensified yesterday.
The move came as Christian Voice, a lobby group that spearheaded a wave of protests against the corporation, announced plans to launch a blasphemy action against the BBC and the West End’s Cambridge Theatre.
Christian groups protest outside BBC Broadcasting House at the decision to air the controversial opera
The opera, shown on BBC2 on Saturday night, has as its subject the confrontational American chat show and includes strong language and scenes depicting Jesus, God, Mary and Satan.
Asked about the prospect of being prosecuted for blasphemy, a spokesman for the producer, Avalon, said: “We have yet to receive any legal paperwork and it would be inappropriate for us to comment until we do.”
In turn, the BBC has been consulting police over possible action against Christian Voice, which published home addresses of 15 senior corporation executives and producers. Some households were deluged with hundreds of calls.
A BBC source said one of the calls mentioned “bloodshed” and another warned the recipient that “something bad could happen”.
The corporation said it had been forced to adopt security measures akin to those it had used in the past after programmes dealing with the far Right.
“We are not going to put up with dedicated public servants and their families being abused,” the BBC source added.
The programme attracted an audience of 1.8 million viewers, about 300,000 more than usual for that slot. There had been 47,000 protest calls before and during transmission and 300 afterwards.
Christian Voice remained unrepentant over the tactics it had employed. Stephen Green, the organisation’s national director, said it had brought 1,200 people on to the streets on Saturday night, including 400 to 500 people who protested outside BBC Television Centre at White City, west London.
Admitting that his organisation had published private contact details, Mr Green said: “It reflects that we have no confidence in the current channels of complaint. These people are public figures and the information is in the public domain.
“The BBC would not have done this if it had been Muslims or Sikhs, but because we are Christians we are fair game.”
There was support for Christian groups opposed to the broadcast from the Sikh organisation that forced the closure of Behzti, a play depicting rape and murder inside a temple.
Sewa Singh Mandla, the chairman of the Council of Sikh Gurudwaras in Birmingham, said his organisation was standing “shoulder to shoulder” with the Christian protesters.
“We believe it is the duty of the media to project faith in a positive manner. To hide behind the cloak of fiction is not tolerable,” he said.
The Churches Media Council, an ecumenical group, did not condemn the broadcast. While accepting that a number of Christian groups were concerned about the broadcast, the BBC had gone out of its way to warn viewers that some might find Jerry Springer: the Opera offensive, it said.
A spokesman added: “This is a serious piece of work and does not deserve to be condemned out of hand. It is an excellent modern morality opera.”
The Muslim Council of Great Britain said: “While we understand and sympathise with the huge amount of concern this programme has generated, we would not go along with the personal harassment of the board of the BBC.”
Jan. 10, 2005