- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A British celebrity reality television show yesterday said it would not tolerate bullying or racist abuse following a torrent of complaints over the treatment of glamorous Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty.

Miss Shetty, 31, a top Indian actress, is one of nine famous faces locked in a house for “Celebrity Big Brother,” in which their activities are broadcast round the clock by Channel 4.

Britain’s media watchdog Ofcom has received a storm of complaints over claims of bullying and racist abuse toward Miss Shetty, who regularly has been reduced to tears by the antics of a gang of her fellow housemates.

Miss Shetty’s accent has been mocked; a clique has ganged up against her, given her a tough time and dealt her regular insults. Viewers also believe one housemate called her a “Paki” — something Channel 4 denies.

The story made the front page of tabloid newspapers the Daily Star and the Daily Mirror.

By yesterday morning, Ofcom had received about 2,000 complaints about purported racism toward Miss Shetty — about 60 times the number of complaints received over broadcast clips of the hanging of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

“We take this matter very seriously. ‘Big Brother’ does not tolerate bullying or racist abuse,” said a spokesman for the hit show.

“We are monitoring all the housemates and will take appropriate measures to reprimand such behavior where necessary.

“The social interactions and dynamics of the group are one of the key parts of the ‘Big Brother’ story, and viewers have a right to see these portrayed accurately.

“However, this is balanced with our duty not to broadcast material that may cause unjustifiable offense.”

More than 1,500 people have put their name to an online petition that says: “Stop Shilpa Shetty being the victim of racism in the Big Brother House.”

Newspaper columnist Carole Malone, the second housemate to be voted out by viewers, said Miss Shetty would be able to cope.

“She is a very strong woman and can handle it. Shilpa feels that she represents the Asian community and does not want to let them or herself down by retaliating,” Miss Malone said.

Viewers say they believe Miss Shetty has been targeted by Jade Goody, a previous “Big Brother” contestant noted for flaunting her ignorance; Danielle Lloyd, a deposed Miss Great Britain; and singer Jo O’Meara of S Club 7 fame.

Miss Goody has said Shetty “makes my skin crawl,” while Miss Lloyd, stripped of her title for being romantically involved with one of the judges — former England footballer Teddy Sheringham — has called her “a dog,” and “just the cook.”

Miss O’Meara refused to eat a chicken roasted by Miss Shetty because she claimed it was too spicy and undercooked, prompting the film star to burst into tears.

Miss Goody has been dumped as the patron of an anti-bullying charity.

“Big Brother” is Channel 4’s most popular program and attracts near-blanket coverage in Britain’s tabloid press.

Show producers sought out Miss Shetty and reportedly paid her more than the others — up to $675,000 — to bring some Bollywood glamour to proceedings and attract viewers with South Asian roots.

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