Leading Article: Switch off the guilt and turn on your TV

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IT IS time to liberate ourselves from one of the most tenacious guilt trips of modern life. A survey reports today that nearly everyone feels guilty about watching television. We know we should be reading Conrad, listening to Mahler, visiting lonely people in hospital, mowing the lawn, playing tennis, but let's just see whether there's anything on, shall we? From the earliest days, when the picture flickered if they switched on the vacuum cleaner next door, people pretended to watch less television than they did and television sets had doors to disguise them as drinks cabinets.

One reason why we feel more guilty now is that there is more to watch. When Have I Got News For You featured an old BBC2 test card the other day it was surprising to be reminded, in this era of 24-hour TV, what it looked like.

Today's survey explodes the myth that poor people watch more rubbish than the better-off. The truth is that everyone watches rubbish sometimes, and that we all turn to the small screen as a comforter when we are fed up. Obviously, more old and unemployed people watch daytime programmes, because they have the time. But they feel just as guilty about it as anybody else. They shouldn't.

If television were abolished tomorrow, we would be quite capable of devising other mindless ways of occupying our time in an attempt to avoid reading great literature or attending to the needs of our less fortunate neighbours.

Although people talk of being "addicted" to TV, especially to soap operas (which men watch as keenly as women), it is a way of shutting down the cares of everyday life that is much easier to control than alcohol or other chemicals.

Enough of this negativism and snobbery. Let us admit that we watch television because we enjoy it, and that we cannot always be doing something improving and worthwhile with our time.