Big Bro loses sponsor over racist bullying row

MUMBAI: It has become the ‘big brother’ of all controversies, with accusations of racism, the parliaments of two country's wading in, and the show's producers Endemol and UK broadcaster Channel 4 on a fast ride to ratings nirvana.

And it doesn’t stop there. The latest twist to the story comes with one of the major sponsors pulling the plug on Celebrity Big Brother, the low brow reality show that is at the centre of a storm over the treatment meted out to Bollywood starlet Shilpa Shetty by her fellow "housemates".

Carphone Warehouse, the biggest mobile phone retailer in Europe, has pulled out its sponsorship of the current series saying that it did not want its name associated with claims of racist bullying. "We had already made it clear to Channel 4 that were this to continue, we would have to consider our position. Nothing we saw last night gave us any comfort. Accordingly we have instructed Channel 4 to remove our sponsorship name and branding with immediate effect," Carphone Warehouse said in a statement.

The statement added, "Nothing we saw last night gave us any comfort. Accordingly we have instructed Channel 4 to remove our sponsorship name and branding with immediate effect."

Carphone Warehouse has sponsored the show since 2004. The deal with Channel 4 and programme makers Endemol is understood to be in the region of £3million, Britain's Sun tabloid reported.

What would come as no surprise to most media watchers is that the controversy has also fuelled the ratings for the show. Tuesday’s telecast of the show was watched by over 4.5 million viewers almost 1 million more than the previous day. Interest in the show has skyrocketed both within UK’s Asian and white communities.

UK's broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has received a record 27,000 complaints, while Channel 4 has received 3,000 about alleged racism by the house mates towards Shetty. The show has also become a hot topic amongst bloggers making sure the interest in the show is kept alive.

Ratings and voting revenues are likely to soar further after Goody and Shetty are now pitted against one another and depending on the most nominations received, one will be evicted from the house.

Meanwhile Channel 4 released a statement insisting that there had been no overt racism, and claiming that the clashes were based on class and cultural differences.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards has made it clear that he would not conduct a “kangaroo court” over the row. Richards was responding to questions over what action his organisation would be taking following accusations of racism in the show after his keynote speech at the Oxford Media Convention.

One of the more ridiculous ofshoots of the controversy that everyone and their big brother is trying to cash in on came from online community which is offering £10,000 to anyone "who can get a custard pie in the face of any one of the trio of girls" - Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O’Meara - who have been at the centre of allegations of bullying in the house.

Celebrity Big Brother is now in its fifth season on UK’s Channel 4. Netherlands based Endemol is the series producer and had adapted the format to Indian television under the title Big Boss, currently running on Sony Television.

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