When moral panic is the real villain of the piece: Does television glamorise crime? Simon Shaps attacks hysteria over reconstruction series, while Tony Hall defends BBC news programmes

We are in the grip of a moral panic about crime on television. Quite when it started, or who was responsible, nobody can be sure, but a classic panic it most definitely is. Like some medieval plague, it springs from every sewer in a spontaneous overflow, reaches fever pitch, then mercifully subsides.

A Brief History of Moral Panics would include rock'n'roll, Saturday morning cinema, the miniskirt and commercial television. In retrospect, the concerns about each of these - deadly serious at the time - seem quaint. They illustrate an essential characteristic of the moral panic: spectacular wrong-headedness by a minority seeking to protect a majority they see as feckless and vulnerable; certainly more vulnerable than themselves.

In the case of crime programmes on television, the panic is being generated by an unholy alliance of the Broadcasting Standards Council, the Association of Chief Police Officers, some MPs - including the otherwise thoughtful George Walden and Glenda Jackson - the writer Simon Jenkins and, crucially, the chief executive of Channel 4, Michael Grade. The moral panic, if it is to have some tenuous hold on reality, desperately needs a turncoat, an individual who can supply apparently plausible information from the inside. Grade, who in a previous incarnation at BBC 1 presided over Crimewatch and currently has a team recording a fly-

on-the-wall documentary at an inner-

city police station, provides a crucial cameo performance in this role.

The essential elements of the moral panic are now all in place. No obvious beginning, no single individual responsible, a rapid escalation precipitated by an alliance of disparate but powerful voices, the indifference of the vast majority, and an insider prepared to dish the dirt. And, of course, most important, no evidence at all to support the case.

The latest organisation publicly to jump on the bandwagon is the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), concerned about programmes it accuses of 'revelling in violence and increasing the fear of crime'. The association reportedly also argues that such programmes take up too much police time and that there is concern about 'complaints' from the close families of victims.

There is a serious confusion in the minds of these critics. Crime, in their eyes, means violent crime; graphic, nasty, bloody. Michael Grade provided the most spectacularly misleading description when he told a seminar organised by the Voice of the Listener and Viewer that programmes such as Michael Winner's True Crimes contained 'terrifying crimes . . . sensationally presented in a glamorous context for maximum effect and, sadly, maximum fear'.

The truth is that programmes such as True Crimes, Crime Story, In Suspicious Circumstances and Crime Monthly contain almost no re-enactment of violent crime. The average episode of EastEnders or Brookside, one of Michael Grade's shows on Channel 4, probably contains more violence.

Programmes such as True Crimes and Crime Monthly do - oh, the shame] - depict crime: but the context is critical. Crime Monthly, like Crimewatch, enlists the public's help to solve serious crimes. True Crimes shows how serious crimes are eventually solved by reconstructing a police investigation, from the moment after the crime is committed.

But, of course, such programmes are not the only source of information about crime. Local and national newspapers, radio news, the local network that operates within any community, provide infinitely more information about crime than a handful of occasional TV programmes.

Reviewing the literature on the fear of crime for the Metropolitan Police, Chris Hale of the University of Kent writes that fear is a 'reflection of the uneasiness that individuals and neighbourhoods experience concerning their inability to control what goes on around them'. He concludes that we watch crime dramas, in which good triumphs over evil, 'for the reassurance they provide in order to alleviate, not exacerbate, fear'. Privately, a number of senior police officers endorse this view, but dare not show their heads above the parapet.

Of the concerns expressed by Acpo, the feelings of relatives is the most serious. ITV is close to adopting new procedures for such programmes to ensure that close relatives are approached before transmission. For most companies these procedures merely codify what has been common practice. As for the concern that such programmes take up too much police time, LWT's estimate is that the average episode of True Crimes involves about two-and-a-half hours of police time.

There is one final card that the panickers play when they become desperate. It is known as the slippery slope attack: things are pretty bad, but will soon be terrible, perhaps catastrophic. The ace up the panickers' sleeve is the experience on American TV where, seemingly, anything goes.

This, too, is nonsense. Programme- makers here do not want to make the kind of 'tabloid TV' programmes seen in the US. Regulators would not accept them, the audience would not watch them. End of story. End of panic.

Simon Shaps is controller of factual programmes for London Weekend Television, the station responsible for 'Michael Winner's True Crimes'.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Research shows that, in spite of recurrent panics, the public's level of offence at television violence has altered little within the past five years. The figures show the percentage of viewers who say they have been offended by violence on the four main channels. ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 ITV 15 10 11 11 15 BBC1 12 10 9 10 12 BBC2 6 6 7 8 9 C4 9 9 10 11 13 Television, the Public's View 1993. ITC/John Libbey -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Cambridge / London - £47,000

£40000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing ...

Sauce Recruitment: Sales Executive - Consumer Exhibition - 12 month Fixed Term Con

£20000 - £22000 per annum + up to £22K + commission : Sauce Recruitment: The ...

Sauce Recruitment: Senior Sales Executive - Premium Food and Drink Events

£24000 - £26000 per annum + up to £26K + team commission: Sauce Recruitment: H...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Planning & Analysis Analyst (FP&A)- Entertainment

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A major film studio are looking ...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen