Family Guy: Not All Dogs Go to Heaven
BBC 3, 17th December 2011
The complainant wrote to the BBC saying that he had watched the programme from about half way through until its conclusion and found it offensive. He said it was an unmitigated attack on Christ and Christians. In particular, he highlighted scenes showing a dog chewing a cross, Christ being portrayed as a rapist and Christians burning books.
In response, BBC Audience Services explained that Family Guy was an irreverent comedy which joked about many topics, including religion, gender, sexual orientation, politics, history and disability. They said that they did not believe any of the programme’s jokes carried the message that one group of society should be openly despised and that Family Guy’s humour fell into the category of exaggerated, silly satire. It was not to be taken too literally and the majority of the show’s viewers appreciated that it was not trying to attack a section of society.
Audience Services apologised that the complainant found the programme offensive but concluded that it did not go beyond the bounds of what was acceptable comedy for the BBC Three audience.
The Editorial Complaints Unit then considered the complaint. It said that the context of Family Guy was such that the relationship between aspects of the real world and their portrayal in the series was so distant that it was more a case of fantastical allusion than portrayal.
In relation to a dog being made to chew a cross, the ECU said that this was an example of an absurd premise that a dog could be converted to Christianity by using a cross as a stick to be retrieved and that in itself rested on the more fundamentally absurd premise that a dog might be capable of conversion to Christianity when it professed itself an atheist.
In relation to the scene in which the complainant said that Christ was about to commit rape, the ECU said that the scene was capable of more than one interpretation. It could not be said with certainly that Christ was about to commit rape, although it was clear his intentions were not honourable.
Finally, in relation to the scene where Christians were portrayed as burning books on logic, the ECU said that this was hyperbolically exaggerated.
The ECU therefore did not uphold any aspect of the complaint.
Appeal to the BBC Trust
The complainant escalated his complaint to the BBC Trust, saying that he understood Family Guy was an animated cartoon but nonetheless the three elements referred to in his complaint were offensive because of the fact that they were scripted and depicted.
The Editorial Standards Committee noted that the relevant guidelines on Harm and Offence and Religion both allow for editorial justification and audience expectations to be taken into consideration. The Committee noted the background to the series and this episode in particular which had been provided by the ECU and the Head of Editorial Standards. The Committee agreed that, given the context of the programme and the likely expectations of regular viewers of Family Guy and BBC Three viewers in general, there was sufficient evidence to show that any risk of offence was editorially justified.
While the Committee was sorry that the complainant had been offended by the programme, it agreed that there was not a reasonable prospect of success for this complaint on appeal.
The Committee therefore decided this appeal did not qualify to proceed for consideration.