Lithuania fines MTV over Popetown

Vilnius,, Lithuania - Lithuania's television watchdog fined the director of MTV Networks Baltic for airing Popetown, a controversial cartoon series that pokes fun at the Roman Catholic Church.

The 13-member Radio and Television Commission voted unanimously to fine Marius Veselis 3,000 litas ($NZ1,600) commission chairman Jonas Liniauskas said.

The cartoons, which depict the Pope as a rotund 77-year-old obsessed with his pogo-stick and surrounded by toys, provoked a storm of criticism in Lithuania, where 80% of the population is Roman Catholic.

The commission made its decision after the Inspector of Journalists' Ethics, Romas Gudaitis, said "Popetown" should be banned because it portrayed the clergy as destructive and incited religious discrimination.

MTV Lietuva spokeswoman Ema Segal said Veselis would appeal. "We have aired the series in all the three Baltic states, but it caused such a reaction only in Lithuania," she said.

MTV, owned by Viacom Inc., said Gudaitis's stand was an attempt to limit freedom of expression and thought, and rejected suggestions that "Popetown" insulted Catholics.

"This is just an artistic satire and nothing more. We neither attempted to mock religion nor God himself," Segal said.

Veselis said in a statement last month that the reaction to Popetown had unmasked Lithuania as a "sort of half-medieval, half-communist, sick culture".

The animated show was commissioned by the publicly funded British Broadcasting Corporation in 2002 but dropped in 2004 because of worries it might offend Catholics.

There were protests against the series when it was shown in New Zealand and in Germany, the home of Pope Benedict.

MTV began airing the series in Lithuania in December, after a court rejected the Church's bid to postpone it. The Church later said it planned to sue MTV for inciting religious hatred.