Bottomley wields stick on TV violence

Heritage Secretary expresses concern to network chiefs, but a bigger threat hangs over the airwaves
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The Independent Online
Virginia Bottomley yesterday stepped up her crusade against violence on television, but failed to win significant concessions from regulators.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage announced new measures following a meeting with Sir Christopher Bland, chairman of the BBC, Sir George Russell, chairman of the Independent Television Commission (ITC), and Lady Howe, chairwoman of the Broadcasting Standards Council.

The summit followed Mrs Bottomley's demand last month that all three produced reports suggesting how to reduce television violence.

Yesterday the three agreed a four-point plan, but it appeared to promise little advance on existing regulation. They pledged to "continue to ensure that programme makers maintain proper standards" and "firmly deal" with transgressions; educate viewers about programme codes and the watershed; revise their codes of practice - apart from the BBC, which has just done so - and explore how to improve the signalling of violent programmes on screen, on teletext and in listings.

Mrs Bottomley also published the results of a consultation exercise earlier this year into the V-chip, the device which can be installed inside television sets to blank out violent or sexual programmes automatically. But her department's paper held out little immediate hope forthe V-chip in Britain. It said that there was a long way to go before it could be a useful tool, even if it proved feasible in the first place.

It warned: "There was ... a degree of scepticism that the introduction of the V-chip was likely, at least in isolation, to be successful in addressing these concerns [about the levels of violence and its effects]."

Mrs Bottomley's concern follows a trend for crime shows and dramas to be less overtly violent but still, she thinks, unhealthy. She also believes that there is too much emphasis on crime on television generally.

A mother-of-three herself, Mrs Bottomley wants more protection for children and information for parents, and argues that repeatedly seeing violence must influence the ways people behave.

After yesterday's meeting she said: "Violence on television is a cause for concern for many viewers. I share that concern. Statistics suggest that the amount of violence on our screens is decreasing and I welcome that.

"But even so, there are times when violence seems too prominent in the schedules, and this can be disturbing for many viewers, young and old."

Recently the BBC1 soap opera EastEnders has been gripped by violence with the gangland shooting of Ian Beale, while Carlton's London Bridge got a formal warning from the ITC over a rape scene.

Other programmes which have fallen foul of the increasingly restrictive climate include The Bill (Carlton), Brookside (Channel 4), and even the normally anodyne Australian soap Neighbours (BBC1).

Last night, Jack Cunningham, Labour's heritage spokesman, accused Mrs Bottomley of trying to use television violence to shore up her political credibility.

He warned: "Virginia Bottomley's crusade on television violence is a fraud. She has had the chance to act and has consistently failed to do so."