Australian comedian PETER HELLIAR has publicly apologised to hepatitis sufferers for making light of the liver disease and poking fun at sufferer Pamela Anderson on TV. Officials at Hepatitis Australia were outraged by a "cheap, cruel" joke, in which the comic joked about giving hepatitis C to Anderson for her recent 40th birthday, during an appearance on weekly talk show Rove on Sunday (01Jul07), and called for Helliar to apologise. In a statement, released on Tuesday (03Jul07), Helliar insisted he did not mean to cause offence. He said, "The joke... was not intended to offend those living with hepatitis and, if any offence was caused, I sincerely apologise." Hepatitis Australia boss Helen Tyrrell has criticised the Rove show for airing the joke, insisting a similar gag at the expense of HIV/AIDS sufferers would not have been allowed. She tells Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper, "Many of the 260,000 Australians affected by hepatitis C already experience stigma and discrimination on a regular basis, and ignorant comedy like this only adds to the pain. "But for some reason they think it's acceptable to seek cheap laughs at the expense of people living with hepatitis C."