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Time for a boycott or two? Dec 05

Via MediaWatchWatch comes the news from The Independent (update: link now pay-to-view) that Woolworths and Sainsbury’s have withdrawn from sale our old friend Jerry Springer: The Opera on DVD due to "customer concerns".

Sainsbury has admitted it received just 10 complaints.

Tim was written to both expressing his disappointment. Time for a seasonal, free speech boycott of Woolies and Sainsbury’s? A pledge, perhaps? Or a nice sidebar button?

Either way, I won’t be shopping at either for the rest of 2005. That’ll learn ’em.

34 Responses

  1. 1
    James Bee 

    It should be easy enough to provide Sainsbury’s with more than 10 complaints here, although weight of numbers shouldn’t be the issue! Sainsbury’s have also lost what remains of this year’s custom from me, and have be warned not to expect me back if they don’t change their ways. Which reminds me, there’s a farmers’ market on round the corner from me today, hurrah!

  2. 2
    Steve Guy 

    Interesting that you should advocate boycotting stores because you don’t agree with their decision not to sell something – but what about the freedom that you would want if you were a retailer? Surely if you owned a shop, you should have the right to sell or not sell what you think appropriate for the majority of your customers. I don’t think it very liberal to proscribe what retailers should or shouldn’t sell!

  3. 3

    They absolutely have the right to sell what they want, and I have the right not to shop there if they decide that their retail policy should be decided by an extreme Christian fringe group. If I ran a shop, I wouldn’t expect people to give be their custom regardless of my attitudes.

    I absolutely didn’t suggest that they should be forced to sell particular products. But presumably their fear of the an effect on their sales was their reason for withdrawal, and it is not unreasonable to use the same methods to counter the crazies.

    It’s the market at work. What could be more liberal than that?

  4. 4

    yes will, but there is a slight contradiction in your argument. You object to sainsburys and woolworths giving in to a consumer boycott. However you will attempt to use the same tactics to get that decision reversed? I also query your use of the word “crazies”. thats not very respectful of a signifigant religious minority. Some times the liberal values of freedom and diversity are in tension as it this case. Finally did you actually shop in these shops anyway/ I famously helped lead a boycott of coke (cola) while a student union hack. Unfortunately it was after the new policy had been passed that we first checked our contract was with pepsi..

  5. 5

    I don’t object to the principle of retailers responding to consumer action, I object to this specific action taken presumably out of fear of lost sales based on the spurious claims of a particularly bizarre group. It is not so much an attempt to get them to reverse their policy – although that would be a good thing – as to show that there are people on the other side of the argument who can and will take similar action, thereby undermining their reasons for withdrawing the item.

    It is no different to writing to the BBC in support of the programme when it was being flooded with emails against: it’s about balancing the argument.

    The fact that the DVD would probably be cheaper on Play anyway doesn’t come into it…

  6. Sorry, I don’t want to state the obvious here, but surely the reason the shops have caved to Xian Voice is not so much the boycott as knowing about the death threats against BBC staff last time they reared their heads. Will’s not pulling that kind of stunt, so his tactics are totally different, no?

  7. 7

    The Pledge Bank idea is interesting, and I thought about setting up a pledge, but wasn’t sure on what I would pledge — me not shopping at Woolworth or Sainsbury isn’t dependent on other people choosing not to. If you do come up with an appropriate pledge, let me know and I will both sign it and promote it.

  8. 8

    I’m glad to see that at least one MP has taken up this issue: see Lynne Featherstone’s blog

    Thought somehow I don’t hold out too much hope for the bread idea … !

  9. 9

    I quite agree that the real factor here is not the 10 letters of protest from christain voice but the fear that well recognised brands like sainsburys and woolworths will get the “bbc” treatment. ie pickets and death threats. However i belive if these are real rather than imagined then the terrorism legislation is the better avenue than a consumer boycott in response to a consumer boycott. unfashionable though it is I still defend the right of christian voice to air there view. I doubt any other religion in britain would be as easily abused as chritianity. Finally I should confess to buying a subtaintial lunch from themanchester picadilly branch of sainburys today. I wasn’t untill i paid that i realised what a political statement i had made. And by the time i was back in leeds i still had not worked out what that statement was…

  10. 10
    Ian Hawkins 

    This for the most part is a country free from extreme religious hogwash. It is high time that calls for censorship are treated with the contempt deserved for the small minded bigots that make them. Every victory for extremists is an invitation for them to do it again, even when it is retailer on te grounds that they can’t be bothered with the fuss. Having got shot of one lot of puritans over to the Americas, perhaps it is time we had a whip-round to fund a one-way trip for this next lot.

  11. 11

    Is the point not this? Christian Voice and others wish to conscribe what the rest of us are entitled (or at least able) to see, buy and do, in accordance with their own supercilious and narrow-minded views. By pulling JSTO from their shelves Sainsbury’s and Woolies are implicitly and ostensibly endorsing – or at least succumbing to – such views. The removal from sale has a direct, negative and infuriating impact on the rest of us (and, symbolically, on tolerance in society as a whole).

    But Will & ors do not wish to conscribe what Christian Voice etc. are entitled to see, buy, or do (or not see, not buy or not do), save to the extent that it impacts negatively on others. The sale of JSTO at Sainsbury’s and Woolies has no real impact on Chirstian Voice and their supporters whatsoever; they do not have to buy it. Any argument that it has an indirect impact by publicising the content of JSTO is hopeless because we all know about it by now. Nor can it sensibly be seen as an endorsement by the retailers of the content of the musical – nobody assumes that retailers must be dogged Christians if they sell the Bible, but there would be something to be said if a retailer ceased selling the Bible because of the demands of a minority.

    Many people find aspects of the Bible offensive (or else they would if they read it). But they do not try to prevent those who wish to read it from doing so and if they did they would be ignored.

    Sainsbury’s is of course entitled to sell whatever to whomever it wishes (within the law). But the rest of us are entitled to be disappointed at its blinkered decision to pull JSTO. The tactics are less important the the principle, I think.

    Sorry to go on and on but it’s important, this.

  12. 12

    Why is it that whenever religious fundamentalists (of any religion) start voicing their opinions everyone springs into action and panders to their every whim. I for one, am sick and tired of these narrow-minded, mind controlling thugs always getting their own way at the expense of the majority, who are not always so vocal on such matters. I think religion has been given the ‘top spot’ for far too long and it’s time that it was relocated to the archives where it belongs. Although saying that, even if religions were to become ‘extinct’, I’m sure these fanatics would find something else to latch on to in order to voice their intolerances.

  13. 13
    John Self 

    ‘Crazies’ is precisely the word. Presumably the Christian Voice thugs have also written to Tesco, Asda, etc without success, so why should Sainsbury’s and Woolworths cave in? Ignore the no-marks, and if intimidating protests are used subsequently then they’re terrorists (defn: those who seek to effect change by the use of force, fear or the threat thereof) and should be detained for, say, 90 days.

  14. 14

    Would they have removed their pork chops if 10 vegetarians found them offensive and complained? I think not.

    Whilst all shops have a right to sell what they wish, this is coupled with a responsibility to treat customers equally and not pander to minorities.

  15. 15

    I wish people wouldn’t link to Independent stories – they charge you a quid to view more than the first two paragraphs a day after the story has appeared. It’s worse than pointless. (Ok, maybe it’s simply pointless, but you get the idea.)

    The problem here is that the little Christian pressure group wants to dictate what everyone else can and cannot buy/view/imbibe. That’s why they’re at fault.

    They forgot the whole tolerance and ‘turn the other cheek’ thing – they’re little more than petty dictators. If they have their way no one will be able to be exposed to anythign that they don’t agree with – that’s their agenda, this is but a small example, thereof.

    They’re waging a campaign (or shall we say ‘war’?) against non-believers (in their specific doctrine) and Woolworths and Sainsbury’s are … the French.

  16. 16

    David seems a bit sensitive to use of “crazies”. Personally I prefer the term “Bible Thumping Retards” or BTRs, as it’s more descriptive and more accurate, and doesn’t group us normal crazies in with a group of bigoted extremists. I like to extend an open invitation to the BTRs to move to a place where they will feel more at home : Kansas.

  17. 17

    Thought you might be interested in my little protest on Pledgebank. If 10-20 letters can prompt Sainsburys to remove Jerry Springer from sale then why can’t 10-20 letters get Disney DVDs removed from sale ?

    I’m sure there must be 10-20 people in the country who think Disney is offensive.

  18. You made it onto the BBC website (well you and a lot of other bloggers)

  19. 19
    Phil Wade 

    I’m warming to the idea of getting 10-20 people to tell Sainsburys/Woolworths that they find /insert xian garbage here/ offensive to them and get it removed from sale – but that would be giving the impression that I believe said organisations are even handed in such matters. Still it would be fun.
    I find Disney *very* offensive btw.

  20. 20

    Just sent the message below to Sainsburys. Please support me! Get the Daily Mail banned!

    “I believe you have recently removed the Jerry Springer: The Opera DVD from your shelves following a (relatively) small number of complaints. I was wondering, I find the Daily Mail an incredibly offensive publication, and was wondering if 10 or 20 customer complained would you see fit to ban the sale of this in your stores too?”

  21. 21
    Chris Close 

    I find Michael Bolton offensive, but wouldn’t advocate censor… oh hang about it does start to have its attractions

  22. I had been trying to work out what was best to ask Sainsburys to ban, and Pete you’re right the Daily Mail must be the best bet.

  23. 23

    I had a reply from Sainsburys last night apologising, but still attempting to justify their decision by stating it was never their intention to upset customers. Still, I pointed out that it was the job of the BBFC as governing body for such material to state what should and should not be sold by retailers.

    Heh-ho, I don’t think they’ll be any Daily Mail ban anytime soon…….

  24. 24
    Mike Ryan 

    Registered my unhappiness on the Sainsbury’s Contact US section of the website.

    “I understand that Sainsburys may have removed Jerry Springer: The Opera fom it’s shelves due to complaints from christian groups. Could you confirm this is the case? If so, I shall no longer be doing my local shopping at Balham and shall be urging colleagues and friends to do the same”

  25. 25
    David Reynolds 

    Sent the following to J Sainsbury via their web site today. Keep up the good fight.

    “I understand you have a policy of withdrawing products based on consumer feedback, with a threshold of around 20 complaints. This is admirable and under this policy I would like to object to the sale of the Daily Mail newspaper in your stores. This paper never fails to publish articles which I find grossly offensive and objectionable. Such gutter press has no place in super markets. As such please count me as one of those who has complained about this publication; you will likely be hearing from others who I will arrange to contact you in due course. I hope you will continue your policy of pandering to the opinions of the public, even if only a small number of us object, and I look forward to shopping in your Daily Mail free supermarkets in future.”

    I hope you and Sainsbury can detect the hint of sarcasm in the above.

  26. 26

    I have emailed Sainsburys and warned them of my impending boycott. Even though it may involve me entering a Somerfield (yuk!)

    I live opposite a Sainsburys and find it really useful when I’ve ran out of stuff – so I hope Will realises what a sacrifice Im making. Where else can one turn for blank videos of an evening?

  27. 27

    If people don’t mind me saying so (I suspect that they will…) i think this has got a little out of hand. I am on the the side of Liberty. Of course JSTO should be on sale, and no big companies shouldn’t cave in on the basis of at least threats of negative publicity or perhaps worse.

    However I do genuinely feel that christianophobia is one of the few legitimate prejudices that can be expressed in Britian today. If some of the above posts had been made about the disabled or “the gays” they would have been taken down.

    I do conceed that matt at 11 makes an excellent point about negative and posit liberties. However if Christian voice can influcne policy with 20 letters then surely the correct response to get 40 letters in by way of opposition. Not abusing people who care enough to take civic action however misguided i personally think there views are

  28. 28
    Chris C 

    Emailed both – Woolies have emailed back saying the DVD is available on their website. Sainsburys say removed from stores due to low sales – have suggested that that shouldn’t stop it being available on their website – let’s see if they agree

  29. 29

    @27 David, I understand that you are concerned about Christian-bashing. However, I think that most people can tell the difference between the average benign Christian and gay-bashing Christians who try to limit free speech.

    I don’t think you should compare Christian Voice with minority groups like the disabled. Do the disabled go round as a group telling people that gays are evil?

    Taking action is laudable. Respecting your opponent in debate is important. But there are limits and by wanting to jump up and down on fundamental human rights, Christian Voice has breached those limits.

  30. 30
    David Reynolds 

    I recived the following odd reply to my demand that the Daily Mail be withdrawn.

    “Dear David

    Thank you for contacting us. I am sorry you have been disappointed by our decision to withdraw Jerry Springer – The Opera from sale in our stores. As there has been lots of interest in this matter I would like to clarify why the title was taken out of our range.

    We sell many DVD titles throughout the year and our range changes from week to week based on what customers want and, of course, sales. In the first week that Jerry Springer – The Opera was released, we sold only 111 copies in all stores nationwide and received a high number of contacts from unhappy customers. In the early part of the second week we sold only 21 more copies and received further complaints. Due to these very poor sales figures this DVD would have been withdrawn at the end of the week, but in view of the contacts we had received we removed it a few days earlier than planned.

    Please be assured that, as a company, we feel it is our responsibility to offer choice. We do not feel it is right for us to tell our customers what they should or should not buy. However, in this case sales were so low that we did not think removing this title would have a negative impact on our customers and we wanted to give them a choice of more popular titles.

    Thank you for taking the time to let us know your views on this matter and for giving us a chance to explain the reasons behind our decision.

    Kind regards,

    Gavin Wood
    Sainsbury’s Customer Services”

    Here is my reply:

    I do not recall mention Jerry Springer, or an opera. I want the Daily Mail withdrawn from sale in Sainsburys based on your policy of withdrawing things based on “customer feedback”. Please address the correct issue here. The Daily Mail has been a constant source of annoyance to me as it promotes nonsense that is repugnant to sensible people whom I am sure are offended by it.

    So, count me as someone who has complained about The Daily Mail. You will receive more complaints as I have assured you will.

    On the subject of sales verses complaints, so what!? Is it not more right that people be protected from sick filth that in my opinion will pervert their minds than for people to be given the choice as to what they might purchase!? Absolutely it is, as you actions have shown. Since you mention this Jerry Springer Opera as an example lets look at what you have done.

    You have sold a small number of a minority interest DVD, no surprise (111). Your “high number of contacts from unhappy customers” is reported as 22, wow. So you removed the title. I warrant that removing The Daily Mail from your stores will result in no less an outcry than your going to experience by your decision regarding this Jerry Springer thing. The amusing thing is that the publicity generated from your actions is no doubt promoting its sale else where.

    The Daily Mail is filth and as the bastions of morals that you are you should remove if from you product list forth with!!! People should not be given the choice of exposing themselves to such vile and disgusting filth.

    Be assured I will publish your irrelevant reply and my response internationally via the internet.

    Thank you for your attention.

    David Reynolds

    PS, you would not believe how many people I have blind cc’d this to. I strongly suggest you act as you did with this Jerry Springer thing and respond appropriately to the complaints you will receive by removing this Daily Mail from your products.

  31. 31


    the disabled are a minority because they are, er, a minority. In a numerical sense they are therefore as valid a comparison with “the gays”.

    The fact this comparison makes you uncomfortable was precisley my point. People are comfortable with prejudice which is in accordance with the left/liberal spectrum but not from a “right wing” group like christian group. Liberty is liberty.

  32. 32

    I followed the inspried idea of requesting a Daily Mail boycott, carefully wording my emails so as not to even mention JSTO.

    Entertainingly, Woolies have sent me their stock response, saying that the “product” (presumably the Mail, as I didn’t mention another) is not available in stores but can be ordered via their website!

    I have responded appropriately and await a personalised reply with bated breath.

    You may also wish to check out Richard Herring’s website ( – comedy double act partner of Stewart Lee, the co-librettist of JSTO – to see his Warming Up entries of the last few days on the topic and allied comments in the Guestbook.

  33. 33
    Mike Ryan 

    Don’t know how many people will see this, but as a follow-up, many people here may be interested to know that it’s being reported that christians have been working with the BNP against Jerry Springer The Opera.,,1692269,00.html

    Nice to see that christians have been able to weigh up the difficult issues involved and make a hard decision, and have decided that facism and racial prejudice are less of a sin than blasphemy.

  1. […] readers of my blog (and others too) will recall the Jerry Springer: The Opera controversy back in 2005. After the show was aired on BBC Two (although not in reaction to its previous, […]