Big Brother’s big brother backs out


A row about racism on the ‘reality’ television show Celebrity Big Brother erupted into a financial headache for Britain’s Channel 4 television on January 18 as its £3m title sponsor, Carphone Warehouse, pulled out and the controversy threatened to influence the debate over the channel’s future funding.

Far from receding following the decision to question contestants accused of racially abusing the Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty on air, the storm intensified and forced executives of Channel 4 and the show’s maker, Endemol, to finally break cover to defend the programme.

The British government’s culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, said, “I think this is racism being presented as entertainment, and I think it is disgusting.” She said adjudicating on the row was a matter for the media regulator, Ofcom, which has now received 33,000 complaints, but added, “My personal view is that this has caused enormous offence not only abroad but to the Indian community here.”

Carphone Warehouse chief executive, Charles Dunstone, said he was removing his brand from the programme after four years “with immediate effect”. The bill for having its name associated with the celebrity version and the longer-running summer series is understood to be £3m a year. Dunstone said he had become increasingly alarmed by events in the house, “We are totally against all forms of racism and bullying. As a result we feel that as long as this continues we are unable to associate our brand with the programme.”

Channel 4 chief executive, Andy Duncan, mounted a spirited defence of the programme. “The debate has been heated, the viewing has at times been uncomfortable but, in my view, it is unquestionably a good thing that the programme has raised these issues and provoked such a debate,’’ he said. Ofcom’s chief executive, Ed Richards, said, “We are monitoring the situation very, very closely. Clearly what’s happening is very serious.”

Face off: ‘Bully’ Vs ‘Victim’

LONDON: A row over alleged bullying and racism on a British reality television show is set to come to a head on January 19 with viewers deciding on whether to back Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty or the woman alleged to have intimidated her.

Along with former Miss Great Britain Danielle Lloyd and fallen S Club 7 lead singer Jo O’Meara, Jade Goody has reduced Shetty to tears on multiple occasions.

Lloyd and Goody have also seen their endorsement contracts take a hit, with motorcycle insurance firm Bennetts tearing up their agreement with Lloyd for her to be the face of their brand. Retailer The Perfume Shop also withdrew Goody’s perfume, ‘Shh...’ from its stores in the midst of the controversy, saying it would revisit the decision once Goody left the programme. Her popularity has dropped to the point where The Sun tabloid, Britain’s best-read daily, appealed to its readers to evict Goody, who the newspaper described as the “face of hate”.

Goody, known for flaunting her ignorance, faces off against Shetty in a public vote on Friday evening with Goody the odds-on favourite to be evicted.

The Bollywood queen has been branded a “dog”, told to clean out the toilet with her teeth and asked whether she lived in a shack; one housemate derided Indian hygiene while another said the actress “wants to be white”. — AFP

Is this Shilpa’s last shot at fame?

NEW DELHI: Shilpa Shetty may not have bargained for taunts about her skin colour when she agreed to go on Celebrity big Brother, but it has shot her to far greater fame than a long career in Indian movies.

The controversy has thrust Bollywood’s glamour girl — known more for her looks than talent — into the harsh glare of international spotlight, something she perhaps set out to achieve. The warts-and-all programme has become a last-chance saloon for fading celebrities to revive flagging careers and cash a fat cheque.

However Shetty’s spokesman Dale Bhagwagar sees it as an honest career move.

“She saw it as one step ahead in her life and in her career. She was not doing this for money or for fame. She has it all,” he said.

But some commentators said Shetty was clearly eyeing the opportunity to boost a rather unremarkable career in Bollywood.

Her reported 350,000-pound (686,000-dollar) fee for Big Brother was a huge packet for “someone who has yo-yoed between stardom and starletdom over the past 14 years”, India’s weekly Outlook magazine said.

Since joining Bollywood in 1993, Shetty has acted in nearly 50 films in the Hindi, Telugu and Tamil languages. But she has fewer than a dozen hits to her credit though this 5’11”tall beauty commands a huge following in India, largely because of her striking looks. — AFP