BBC issues new taste rules

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The Independent Online
Television viewers can expect less sex, violence, blasphemy and bad language under new BBC guidelines due to be announced in the summer.

Amid growing concern about standards of taste and decency, BBC governors are drawing up rules intended to ensure that the 9pm watershed is observed more vigorously.

Programme makers will be expected to examine the portrayal of violence and the use of stereotypes in comedy shows. The corporation also aims to give clearer guidance on scheduling on television and radio which could result in explicit sex scenes in drama such as The Buddha of Suburbia being shown late at night or excluded altogether. It will undoubtedly spell the end of four-letter words on The Archers.

The move comes after the Government ruled out writing into the Broadcasting Bill the introduction of the V-chip, a device which allows parents to block out certain programmes. However, Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, will continue to explore what the gadget has to offer and is holding a seminar on the issue later this week.

The revision of the taste and decency section of the guidelines to programme makers is one of the last of the last acts of Marmaduke Hussey who retires as BBC chairman after 10 years next Sunday.

He took the lead after hearing the views of the 125 delegates at a seminar held by the BBC Board of Governors last November. They included religious leaders, writers, academics, broadcasters and representatives from bodies such as the Broadcasting Standards Council, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and the National Viewers and Listeners' Association.

He told them: "We are now broadcasting to a fragmented audience with very different views about what constitutes good taste and decent behaviour and what is acceptable on television and radio, and their beliefs are changing very fast. The debate is important because we wield a powerful influence over what people see and hear."

In a letter to the delegates, written before the Dunblane massacre and the V-chip debate, Mr Hussey confirmed the new draft guidelines will be finalised by June. He said they will "emphasise the concept of respect as a key issue in determining where the boundaries should lie in issues of taste, sex and language", and added the guidelines would "stress the need for greater care to be taken about the use of bad language and especially religious language".

Since the guidelines were last amended three years ago, Radio 1 in particular has drawn a large number of complaints.