MTV wins first hearing against Catholic Church over 'Popetown'

  • 2007-01-10
  • By Arturas Racas
VILNIUS - Lithuania's Catholic Church failed in its legal bid to ban the broadcast of a controversial TV cartoon series that, in its opinion, mocks the clergy and the pope.

On Jan. 3, the Vilnius District Court rejected a request by the Lithuanian Bishop's Conference to ban the "Popetown" series from airing on MTV Lietuva.

"The Lithuanian Bishops' Conference said the cartoon should be banned as it mocks the Catholic Church and clergy, who are consciously shown in a vulgar manner. It also said that the series instigates hatred toward the clergy and its followers," said Ema Segal, a spokeswoman for MTV Lietuva.
She said the court rejected the religious organization's request to ban "Popetown" since there was no evidence confirming that the program was "a threat to the church."

"We are happy that the court has once again confirmed Lithuania's media should be free," Segal added.
According to the official "Popetown" Web site, the series "takes you into the side-splittingly surreal world of the Vatican as the long suffering and good-hearted Father Nicholas struggles to walk the narrow path of righteousness whilst surrounded by money-grabbing cardinals and a pogo-stick-riding infantile pope."

The comedy was originally commissioned for BBC by producer Phil Ox, who later decided against airing the episodes after protest among the Roman Catholic community.
The show later debuted in Germany on MTV, where it outraged various religious groups. An anti-"Popetown" Web site even was launched offering downloadable "Stoppt Popetown!" petitions and "Stoppt Popetown!" coffee mugs for sale. The controversial animated series was also broadcast in New Zealand, despite heavy protest.

In its ruling, the Lithuanian court suggested that the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference might sue MTV Lietuva.
"The arguments presented were not enough to decide on the future issue of the lawsuit and whether a ban is necessary to ensure the implementation of the court's decisions, if such are made in the future," the ruling stated.
Marius Veselis, director of MTV Baltic, said that MTV Lietuva had not been informed about the Catholic Church's request and only learned about it after the court announced its ruling.

"We are happy with the court's decision, but this is also a sign that the Catholic Church will continue its senseless fight against MTV, and not only in court, as we have already been attacked by various state institutions. It is hard to believe that people who promote tolerance will go so far just because of some TV satire," Veselis said.

The director earlier criticized Lithuania's Radio and Television Commission, which warned the network that the broadcast of "Popetown" could offend Lithuania's Catholics and asked to speak with MTV's ethics commission before airing the series.
"It's a trap. If we had followed their recommendation, we would have created the conditions for censorship. The possibility of an ethics violation should be considered only after the show is aired. Otherwise, we would set a bad example," Veselis said.
He also downplayed concern expressed by the Lithuanian Lawyers' Association, which last year stated that the TV program was incompatible with the people's constitutional rights and expectations.

So far, the 10-part "Popetown" series has been broadcast on MTV Lietuva every Wednesday.
It remains to be seen whether the program will be pulled, as the Vilnius court's decision is open for appeal. Lithuania's Office of Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson has yet to announce its decision: whether or not the cartoon does violate the rights of Lithuania's Catholics, who make up some 80 percent of the population.
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