LOS ANGELES — In its 200 shows, the irreverent animated program "South Park" has mercilessly satirized Christianity, Buddhism, Scientology, people who are blind, people who are disabled, gay people, Hollywood celebrities and politicians of all persuasions, weathering the resulting protests and threats of boycotts.
But this week, after an ominous threat from a radical Muslim website, the network that airs the program bleeped out all references to the prophet Muhammad in the second of two episodes set to feature the holy figure dressed in a bear costume. The incident provides the latest example that media conglomerates are still struggling to balance free speech with safety concerns and religious sensitivities, six years after Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was slain for making a film critical of Islamic society.
Comedy Central declined to comment on the latest incident. But "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone clearly disagreed with their bosses' handling of the situation. A statement posted on their website said that executives "made a determination to alter the episode" without their approval and that the usual wrap-up speech from one character didn't mention Muhammad "but it got bleeped too."
The network may have thought it had no choice after revolutionmuslim.com, the Web site of a fringe group, delivered a grim warning about last week's episode, which depicted Muhammad dressed as a bear.