Carphone Warehouse has pulled its sponsorship of Celebrity Big Brother in the wake of the "Shettygate" racism scandal, the BBC reports.
The company said its backing for the current series was cancelled "with immediate effect".
The announcement follows thousands of complaints to UK TV watchdog Ofcom, whose website is struggling to cope with the sheer numbers of enraged citizens queuing up to vent their spleen about the human zoo.
A message on the site's complaints section currently reads:
18 January 2007 - Ofcom is currently receiving very high volumes of complaints alleging racism in Celebrity Big Brother 7. Visitors may experience delays or intermittent problems when trying to submit complaints.
According to the BBC, Ofcom said it was "taking the matter very seriously and monitoring the situation very, very carefully". It's not, according to the "Kick Big Brother" bit of its complaints branch, "responding to individual complaints"; rather it says a "Broadcast Bulletin will be published on our website in due course".
And no wonder. The Beeb reckons complaints to Ofcom have now reached 27,000, while Channel 4 has copped 3,000 straight to its outrage inbox.
The TV channel is under increasing pressure to act over the allegations of racism against Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd, and Jo O'Meara, who appear to have formed a Macbethean witches' alliance against Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty. To add to a growing litany of misdemeanours (see our previous coverage here), viewers were further treated to Goody instructing Shetty to "go back to the slums and find out what real life is about".
For the defence, Jade Goody's spokeswoman has defended her client, insisting there "was no proof Goody was racist". She challenged: "I would urge anyone who says that Jade is a racist to produce the evidence to support the claim."
This will cut little ice in India, where the media has widely expressed its dismay at Shetty's treatment. A small demonstration in the northern town of Patna was followed by a the country's junior foreign minister, Anand Sharma, asking: "Surely such racist slurs have no place in civilised society?"
UK chancellor Gordon Brown - in India on an official visit - sought to calm the situation, and repeated to a press conference his assurances that "the UK and India are against forms of racism and intolerance". He added: "We are for countries that practise what we preach, which is a message of fairness and tolerance to all human beings."
Brown did, however, stress that the government would not intervene in the matter, which would be dealt with by Ofcom.
The watchdog has indeed promised action, although not as rapidly as the baying mob might like. The BBC notes that chief executive Ed Richards said he "takes the issue seriously but will not conduct a kangaroo court". A letter will be duly dispatched to Channel 4 within the next couple of weeks, and the channel would then have "a few weeks" to respond.
Channel 4 has issued a further defensive statement which claimed there had been "no overt racial abuse or racist behaviour". It continued: "Unambiguous racist behaviour and language is not tolerated under any circumstances in the Big Brother house. Housemates are constantly monitored and Channel 4 would intervene if a clear instance of this arose."
The statement further noted: "Shetty had not voiced any concerns of racial abuse to Big Brother".
Sceptics have suggested that Channel 4's apparent reluctance to intervene in the matter might be influenced by the huge ratings hit it has enjoyed since the rumpus kicked off. A cool 3.5 million viewers tuned in on Monday this week, rising to 4.5 million on Tuesday and 5.2 million on Wednesday.
But while the channel can certainly weather the storm while enjoying the attention of millions of TV voyeurs, the Carphone Warehouse announcement might provoke it to reconsider its hands-off stance. ®