Clarke calls for curbs on television violence 'that encourages bullying'

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The Independent Online

Violent scenes on television encourage bullying among children, Education Secretary Charles Clarke said yesterday.

He called for a clampdown on programmes which depict fighting and violence, saying they encouraged children to believe "might is right".

Mr Clarke also launched a strong attack on the quality of children's programming, saying much of it had little educational or social benefit. Experts are divided over whether violence on television does trigger aggressive behaviour in children.

Some studies have shown that it does have an impact and several legal cases are pending in America over the role films and violent video games have played in the actions of teenage killers. Others have been inconclusive, with some experts claiming that children are able to distinguish between fictional events and the real-life consequences of violence. Mr Clarke said: "Television does have an impact on children's view of violence.

He continued: "It needs investigating and I think it is for the broadcasting standards organisations to do that. Violence on television encourages people to grow up thinking that violence is an acceptable way of operating."

The 9pm watershed for broadcasters had also become too blurred, said Mr Clarke. "I do worry about that. I don't think it is clear," he said.

He called on the new broadcasting regulatory body, Ofcom, which begins work in the New Year, to look at the issue. A recent study found that 13-year-olds had become "desensitised" to television violence and unable to consider the consequences of such actions.

Research from America, published last year, concluded that children who watch more than an hour of television a day during their early teens were more likely to become violent in later life. The BBC is already considering ways of flashing up warnings on screen to alert parents to violent programmes.

Children in Britain watch up to six hours of television a day, and with 60 per cent having a TV in their bedroom, most viewing is unsupervised.

Mr Clarke said he was concerned that violent cartoons, action films and TV programmes were undermining the Government's attempts to stamp out bullying in schools. He said: "We all know what a serious problem bullying is at school.

"Bullying is the classic statement that violence is right, that might is right. It destroys people. We work very hard to try and drive out the culture, to get children to talk about the problems they face rather than bottle it all up inside them.

"But while TV goes around suggesting that might is right in certain respects then it makes it more of an uphill struggle." The Education Secretary also attacked the high number of cartoons shown on children's television. Mr Clarke said: "Not enough resources are put into children's programming.

"When I was young there was a whole series of programmes for children, classically on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, which the whole family would watch. That is now very much not the case.

According to the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the amount of drama on children's TV has fallen from 24 to 9 per cent in the last decade.

Factual programmes are now almost completely absent from children's TV schedules.

A spokesman for the BBC said: "We spent £188 million last year on original children's programmes, much of it educational."