TELEVISION / Review: Returning to the scene of the crime

I KNOW it's wrong but I just couldn't help myself. The subtitle of Hollywood Women (ITV), 'Sex and Success', was too much to resist and I returned for the second episode, as a dog returneth to its vomit. It only took 10 minutes for me to feel ashamed of myself, if that counts as any kind of mitigating circumstance. Jilly Hutchinson, the producer of this animated scandal-sheet, said recently that she spent four months in the editing suite 'trying to get the balance right'. That's not what it looks like. It looks as though she spent the time cutting film into pieces so small you could use them as confetti. In a world first, they even managed to get a razor-blade between the consonants of 'tits'n'ass', sandwiching the syllables with close-ups of the bits in question.

I guess this is supposed to be arch and dry and witty and all that gas. But in truth it's insulting, both to the viewers, who are deemed incapable of making the simplest connections for themselves, and to the women who agreed to be interviewed. Their views are rendered down for their scrap value, stripped for a word here or a phrase there, which can then be welded together into a sort of composite Hollywood sentence. Last week I gave this the benefit of the doubt (perhaps its a comment on the unvarying cliches of Tinseltown);

now it feels more like a display of editorial vanity.

It's a pity because there are moments when the programme suddenly seems to have an access of shame at its own delirious voyeurism, when it remembers that there are consequences to all this trash, and then it displays proper judgement. A brief, uncluttered exchange on the morality of the film Pretty Woman made you sit up and think (Helen Mirren pointing out, with some justice, that there were young hookers on Sunset Boulevard who might not have been there without it) and the final sequence, a long, virtually unbroken monologue from Vidal Sassoon's daughter Catya, might have come from a different film altogether. As her BMW cruised round Beverly Hills and down Rodeo Drive, Catya confessed - a damaged, self- deluding girl, lacquered into a semblance of vivacious control. If this is what happens to the rich ones with contacts, you thought, then God help the rest.

It's a lowering fact that 1993 has been such a bad year for human rights that the BBC has felt obliged to change the format for its annual attempt to turn viewers into activists. Prisoners of Conscience used to attack abuses on a personal basis, highlighting the cases of named individuals. These days that's a luxury they can't afford; Human Rights, Human Wrongs (BBC2), which has been running all this week, has to deal with human cruelty in bulk.

The effect of watching all of these short programmes - Anthony Hopkins on the growing use of 'disappearance', Helen Suzman on torture, Salman Rushdie on ethnic cleansing and Arthur Miller on censorship with a bullet - is to persuade you that decency is draining from the world in a long, slow ebb. It looks ugly at low tide. Everywhere the powerless are murdered and abused, children included. Saddam Hussein attacks the Marsh Arabs as if they were a household pest and then sends his brother, the notorious Butcher of Baghdad, to the Human Rights Convention in Geneva. In Bangladesh the hill tribes are herded into ghettos and massacred if they protest. In China the inmates of labour camps are systematically tortured. In Turkey, a Nato ally, journalists who are too critical end up dead. English firms supply the equipment with which the torturers can refine their art.

Behind the presenters a large globe revolved, stopping at the relevant continent as they read their arraignments. A patch would darken to pick out the country involved, a shadow which oddly suggested that a sort of eclipse began at these remote borders. Edmund Burke once wrote that 'nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little'. If you want to light a candle, write to Human Rights, Human Wrongs, PO Box 7, London W3 6XJ.