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British Reality TV Show Spawns Allegations of Racism


The producers of Celebrity Big Brother, Britain's latest reality television show, are facing claims that they are allowing racial slurs directed at one of the program's participants to be broadcast unchecked. For VOA News, Tom Rivers reports from London.

Thousands have e-mailed complaints to the broadcasting regulating body here calling the behavior depicted on the program, blatantly racist.

As they see it, a number of the fellow competitors have been verbally abusing fellow participant Shilpa Shetty, a well-known Indian film actress.

Shetty is the only Asian on the show.

Over the past few days she has been brought to tears on a number of occasions by comments made by others contestants regarding her accent, her skin color and other remarks seen as derogatory.

The program runs for three weeks and over that time period the celebrities in the specially constructed house are constantly filmed. Each participant also carries a live microphone. Gradually, the contestants are voted off the show until the last one remaining is declared the winner.

The format has been around in Britain for a number of years, but this the first time that the broadcaster, Channel Four, has had to deal with claims of airing allegedly racist remarks.

Such is the sensitivity of the issue that Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked about it during his weekly parliamentary Question Time session on Wednesday.

"I have not seen the particular program in question and therefore cannot comment on it but of course I would agree entirely with the principle he has outlined which is that we should oppose racism in all its forms," he said.

The question was raised by fellow Labor Party parliamentarian Keith Vaz.

"I was pleased with what the prime minister said, but it is for the broadcaster to make sure that they intervene and prevent the broadcasting of prejudices to millions of people throughout this country," he said.

In addition to the public outcry in Britain, the issue has spilled over into India where a number of protests have been held.

On a trip to India, Gordon Brown - the man expected to succeed Mr. Blair as Britain's next prime minister - said the more than 10,000 complaints made so far by British people shows the depth of feeling that Britain is a country of fairness and tolerance.

The behavior of the Big Brother participants will be closely monitored over the next few days. At this stage it is unclear if the program makers will have to intervene directly.

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