(One of my favourite articles I’ve written, which I initiated when I’d sat down to watch one of my favourite movies, The Life of Brian, on a Monday night, but it wasn’t on! Living in conservative Queensland, I suspected something might have been afoot, so I rang the TV station the next day and uncovered the following story.)
TV movie gets the axe after protest by religious groups
By COTTON WARD
TWO scheduled programs have been dropped by commercial television station SEQ8 due to lobbying by religious groups for their removal.
A cartoon series, Dungeons and Dragons, has been removed until it has been examined by a panel of experts.
Also, the Monty Python move, The Life of Brian, was scheduled for 9.30pm on Monday but was replaced with a “cops and robbers” drama, Stigma, after a petition was received from Christians in Monto.
“The petition, of 22 signatures, came from Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Seventh Day Adventists,” said SEQ’s program manager, Mrs Jan Daniel.
SEQ’s programming decisions are made by the program manager, the general manager and the station manager.
She said the petition said the movie was offensive to Christians and “felt it wasn’t good for young people to watch”.
“We had a phone call from Hervey Bay, a pastor in Gin Gin also rang to protest, and there were a few phone calls from Bundaberg, plus the petition,” Mrs Daniel said.
She said this was the first time SEQ had dropped programs due to protests from the public.
“We’ve had about a dozen calls from people complaining about The Life of Brian not going to air; a couple from Nambour, one from Gympie, and about 11 from Maryborough,” Mrs Daniel said.
The axing is significant at this time, as the country ratings survey ends in the first week of June, and The Life of Brian has been a proven ratings winner in other capital cities.
“In Brisbane, it rated higher than Gone With the Wind,” Mrs Daniel said.
The children’s cartoon, Dungeons and Dragons, was removed on May 11, after religious groups claimed it encouraged children to worship the occult.
A segment on State Affair highlighted that by continuously playing the D and D board game, children could feel inclined to perform acts of violence or commit suicide.
Mrs Daniel said that a panel of six people, including a pastor, a parent, one of the children who wrote in to complain about the show being taken off air (12 letters from the show’s fans were received at SEQ), a librarian, a psychologist, and a person from SEQ, would meet during the next fortnight to compare Dungeons and Dragons with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (another favourite with children, which hasn’t received any complaints).
“We also got a complaint about an episode of The Woody Woodpecker Show screened on May 17, which a viewer considered overly violent,” Mrs Daniel said.
Every phone call or letter received from viewed (with name and address) must be fully documented by SEQ to comply with the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal’s regulations.
She said that The Life of Brian had been scheduled for 9.30pm, later than the usual 8.30pm start for movies, due to the nature of the film.
“We put it on later, so if people didn’t want to watch it, they could turn their television sets off.”
She said that no complaints had been received from Maryborough or the Sunshine Coast.
There are 275,000 people, according to the latest census figures, in SEQ’s viewing area.
“Surprisingly, we didn’t get any complaints about Porky’s,” Mrs Daniel said.
Porky’s was screened last Saturday at 10.15pm, following The Empire Strikes Back. A renowned sex comedy, it was described in the television guide as portraying “The exploits of six over-heated young men bound together by their obsession for girls”. It was heavily modified.
The Baptist pastor at Monto, Mr Noel Nicholls, said he had hired a videotape of The Life of Brian before he organised the petition.
“I was warned by an assistant at the store that the video was ‘blasphemous’,” Mr Nicholls said. He said that the crucifixion scene was particularly offensive, and “made a huge joke of Christianity”.
“I would think the Christian public would be most offended by this. Some of it is obviously just comedy, but often there are tones of underlying blasphemy by subtle association with the life of Christ,” Mr Nicholls said.
He said the opening scene mocked the nativity of Christ. There were many takeoffs of Christ’s teachings, and the language was “foul”. When questioned about the replacement program, Stigma, which is a story about a policeman who received a medal for bravery in a shootout, and the sex comedy Porky’s, Mr Nicholls said it was up to the individual to choose their own viewing.
“There are a lot of unwholesome films, but I don’t have the time to monitor these. It’s the individual’s responsibility to choose what they are going to watch.
“I only object when a program ridicules the name of Jesus Christ. That is when we have to stand up and be counted,” Mr Nicholls said.
He said he appreciated that SEQ had listened to the public by refusing to screen the program.
The presbyterian minister at Monto, Mr John Witteveen, said that the film contained “gutter language”and made a mockery of Christianity and Judaism.
“Some parts of it were very funny and clever but there was no indication that it would be modified for television.
“I think that young people would be influenced by its attitude to Christianity. It’s hard enough already getting them interested,” Mr Witteveen said.
He said that the long term effects of the attitude shown in the film also had to be considered.
The Anglican priest at Monto, Mr Noel Gill, said that most people he had asked had already seen the film.
“It could be misleading to those people who aren’t strong in the faith,” he said.