Depressed enough to watch TV?

With monotonous regularity, letters drop through my letterbox warning me that I may soon face prosecution and a heavy fine. To avoid this fate, I am urged to write a cheque for almost pounds 100. Because I don't respond to this bullying, I am occasionally visited by men who have been sent to question me in person.

The offence I am correctly accused of committing is failing to buy a television licence. The reason - I don't have a TV - is pretty obvious. But I don't see why I should justify myself to the TV Licensing Authority. Its form letters used to ask me to complete a sentence, as though I was entering a competition to win a car: "I do not need a TV licence because..."; these days, there is just a request to respond by phone, "so we can check our records".

This is a shame because some new research suggests a much more ingenious explanation. I don't have a licence, it turns out, because I am not depressed enough to watch television. The five-year study, entitled "TV Living", discovered that people watch lots of television when they are having a bad time and cut down when their lives improve. It describes the viewing habits of a teacher who got divorced, lost her job and had a breakdown; during this awful period, she started watching programmes like Blind Date and Beadle's About.

This would make me feel even worse, but it doesn't seem to work like that for regular viewers. "It is as if TV is a stress reliever, a comforter and a friend," said one of the study's authors, David Gauntlett of Leeds University. He added that when viewers "regain their security or happiness, television becomes less important". I should say here that it's entirely coincidental that I got rid of mine when I became single again, giving it to a friend when my ex-husband refused to take it on the somewhat peculiar ground that "there might be an emergency". What he had in mind, apparently, was a general election, although I subsequently managed to survive the entire 1997 campaign without one. But it's clear that the absence of a set in my house puzzles even people who know me reasonably well. Don't I feel out of touch, they ask. It's true that I have never seen Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Brookside or any programme featuring Chris Evans. But I read four or five British newspapers a day, as well as dipping into French and Italian ones. I also listen to several hours of Radio 4 and the BBC World Service, including its excellent overnight news reports.

I have only a vague notion about most TV personalities, although I am not as innocent as a friend of mine who shocked colleagues on Monday by asking "Who is Jill Dando?". But I am grateful that not watching the box provides some small degree of insulation against the cult of celebrity.

It is a measure of the medium's self-importance, and our habit of unthinking genuflection towards it, that the notion of a Serb connection in her murder has been taken so seriously. Too seriously, according to Italy's La Repubblica, which observed that in this case the thriller, pulp, horror and espionage genres had been whipped up into "a cocktail bizarre even for England, which is the home of Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple".

This is the voice of sane reflection, infrequently heard either on British television or when people come to write about it. The mistake they make is in thinking that, because TV is ubiquitous, it is also important. What I conclude from the new study is the opposite, that it acts like a drug, dulling reactions rather than sharpening them. Of course I know this is unfair to programme-makers who try to raise standards, producing news reports or documentaries which stir people into action rather than keeping them in a state of harmless distraction.

But they are in the minority. If TV reports from Kosovo were disturbing viewers en masse, prompting them to bombard the British government with demands to allow thousands of refugees into this country instead of the pitiful number it has accepted so far, I would think differently. But I suspect many viewers simply feel numbed, like the woman who e-mailed BBC Online after Jill Dando's murder, saying she thought she had become desensitised to the violence in the world - "until today".

We are in the middle of the most serious international crisis I can remember, with refugees barely surviving in primitive conditions in Albania and Serb civilians being bombed almost nightly. With all due respect to Ms Dando's friends and family, these events should exercise us more than the death of a television presenter.

News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

    £7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

    Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

    £26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003