The BBC has been accused of overcautious self-censorship for cutting a lesbian kiss scene in the first episode of the new Doctor Who series when it premiered in Hong Kong last weekend.
Thousands of fans missed out on the kiss between lizard-woman Madame Vastra and her human wife Jenny Flint, which the BBC says was cut to comply with broadcasting regulations in Asia.
Local gay-rights groups called the edit "outrageous" and "scandalous" and said it was unfair not to treat the kiss the same as a kiss between a man and a woman.
The BBC Worldwide's London-based compliance team made the cut to conform with laws against homosexuality and broadcast content codes in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.
The new series of Doctor Who premiered in Hong Kong last Sunday night, a day after the UK showing. It went out on the BBC Entertainment channel, which broadcasts as a subscription channel on PCCW's NOW TV.
Viewers in South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore watched the same censored version.
PR professional Betty Grisoni, who founded the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organisation Les Peches with her partner Abby Lee in Hong Kong, said it was likely the cut had been made with countries like Malaysia and Singapore in mind, rather than Hong Kong.
"This obvious case of censorship is outrageous and viewers in Asia have been left out of the buzz created by the kiss among Doctor Who fans around the world," Grisoni said.
"The story line of the show has included this lesbian couple for over three years now without any censorship and the only time that they show a physical sign of affection, which is already outrageous in itself, it is censored.
"Including LGBT couples in a TV programme is becoming incredibly popular even in Asia, which is in itself a good thing. However, these couples need to be portrayed as equally as heterosexual couples would, public display of affection included.
"This is not about tolerance, it is about equality."
John Erni, chairman of the Pink Alliance, said: "When relevant to the story line, a kiss between same-sex characters and a kiss between opposite-sex ones should be treated by censors in the same manner.
"The BBC Entertainment channel might have had an agreement with more traditional countries to censor any sexual or affective depictions including something as mild as kisses. But if a lesbian kiss was cut simply on the ground of the gender of the protagonists, we feel scandalised through unfair treatment."
Jeanne Leong, director of communications at BBC Worldwide Asia, said as an international broadcaster the BBC had to comply with the broadcast regulations of the countries in which its channels were aired.
As there was only one edit for the whole of the region, the broadcast had to comply with the regulations of the strictest country.The kiss between the two lesbian characters, a first for Doctor Who in its 50-year history, elicited mixed responses in Britain, where the show was viewed by seven million viewers.
In the past, the BBC compliance team has not only cut homosexual kisses from popular shows but also edited or pixelated scenes showing characters smoking, drinking, nudity and even characters wearing revealing clothing - including buxom TV chef Nigella Lawsen.
However, Leong said, BBC Entertainment stopped the practice of pixelating images such as cleavage more than five years ago.