WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s national Muslim body on Wednesday said a TV network’s decision to broadcast a “South Park” cartoon episode showing a bleeding statue of the Virgin Mary was contemptuous and tasteless.
The comedy program shows a statue of Mary bleeding, taken to be a miracle and investigated by Pope Benedict XVI, who dismisses it as simply menstruation.
Titled Bloody Mary, the episode was previously aired in the United States and is available for download on the Web. It drew protests in New Zealand after TV Works — a subsidiary of Canadian-owned Canwest International — confirmed it would air the program on its C4 network.
Originally scheduled to air in May, the timing for the episode was shifted to Wednesday because there was “no benefit” in allowing protests over the broadcast to carry on for months, said TV Works’ chief operating officer Rick Friesen.
Friesen said the network had felt some public wrath over the decision to air the program, with most of the feedback negative.
“We felt it best to end the thing quickly rather than drag it out for three months,” he said, adding that “we believe the reality is a lot less than the perception.”
President of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand Javed Kahn said he had written to Friesen to convey his disappointment with the network’s decision.
“Like Catholics and the wider Christian family, Muslim New Zealanders will be shocked and deeply offended by the portrayal of Mary, mother of Jesus (peace be upon them both) in such a tasteless manner,” Khan wrote.
“We consider Mary (peace be upon her) to be an example of a perfect human being, so this cartoon demeans not just her person and the beliefs of those who revere her but also humanity itself,” he added.
Khan earlier this month won an apology from TV Works and other New Zealand media for publishing or broadcasting images of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Publication of the cartoons, first in Denmark, then several other countries, prompted angry demonstrations in many Muslim countries, and deadly riots in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
Islam widely holds that representations of Muhammad are banned for fear they could lead to idolatry.
Kahn said the network’s decision over “Bloody Mary” flew in the face of its previous statements.
The decision to air the episode meant New Zealand’s Muslims were “in grave doubt about the sincerity of … TV Works’ commitment” to “the importance of freedom of the media and that this freedom comes with responsibilities, including sensitivity to diverse cultures and beliefs,” he said.
President of the nation’s Roman Catholic Bishops Conference, Bishop Denis Browne, said the church was “bitterly disappointed” the screening was going ahead, regardless of the date.
He promised to sustain “a campaign” against the broadcaster and channel C4.
“This is something that has upset half a million Catholics and lots of other good Christian people and people of other good faiths,” he said.
In the first indication that advertisers are responding to the row a recruiting company Wednesday said it had canceled its monthly advertising budget with the TV company.
Max Recruitment managing director Patrick Quin said he “no longer wished to pay them to insult me.”
“I am not only insulted as a Catholic but as a husband and a father,” he said.