TV's taste for humiliation under attack

The rise in "victim entertainment" by broadcasters who exploit unsuspecting members of the public through hoax calls was severely criticised by the industry's watchdog yesterday.

Programmes such as Barrymore, Beadle's About and the BBC1 programme Confessions, presented by disc jockey Simon Mayo, have gone beyond what is acceptable - often by taking jokes further than the participants expected, the Broadcasting Standards Council said.

A hoax call to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents by the Scot FM pre- senter Robin Galloway pretending to be a road crash victim was an example of the trend, said Lady Howe, chair of the BSC.

Simon Bates, on Talk Radio UK, also prompted complaints for proclaiming that it was "Let's get Jackie day", after a caller indicated he wanted revenge on his ex-girlfriend.

On another occasion Michael Barrymore subjected two children to "a form of interviewing more suitable to adults than children, and to some extent exploited their innocence", said Norman McLean, the BSC's deputy director.

The council criticised ITV, the BBC and several radio stations for dragging vulnerable members of the public - some of them elderly - into compromising situations, and exploiting their lack of dignity.

Broadcasters claimed they often had permission to screen hoaxes carried out on members of the public. "But viewers sometimes don't accept that," Lady Howe pointed out.

Programmes such as Beadle's About fell into this trap. "People say the involvement with Beadle is self-inflicted, but some people might not be prepared for how far the programme is prepared to go," Mr McLean warned. "People might feel under pressure to agree to the programme being released after it has been filmed."

Factual programmes using real footage of the emergency services were also problematic. One, Blues and Twos, showed a dying man's dirty, untidy home after police forced entry. It was deemed to have exploited him.

The report warns of the care required in scheduling adult programmes at times when children could be watching - particularly in the evening, before the 9pm watershed.

Soap operas and imported family serials such as Neighbours, as well as The Thin Blue Line, the police comedy starring Rowan Atkinson, had elicited complaints about "the increasing preoccupation with adolescent sexual relationships".

In the last year the council ruled on 1,712 complaints, of which 34 per cent related to taste and decency, 26 per cent to sex, 16 per cent to bad language an 14 per cent to violence.

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