Report points to dramatic fall in TV violence

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The Independent Online

Media Correspondent

Violence accounts for just one per cent of airtime on terrestrial and satellite television in Britain, according to research published yesterday.

Figures gathered by the University of Sheffield on behalf of the Independent Television Commission and the BBC also showed that incidents of violence on the four terrestrial channels had nearly halved since 1986.

The study, which represents the most comprehensive review of its kind in this country, involved content analysis of more than 4,700 hours of programming over four weeks on BBC, ITV and Channel 4, as well as four satellite channels - Sky One, UK Gold, Sky Movies and the Movie Channel.

It found that violence on terrestrial television accounted for 0.61 per cent of output, compared with 1.53 per cent for satellite. While 37 per cent of programmes contained violence of some kind, the report said the general level of violence was inflated by a small number of programmes which contained exceptionally large quantities. For example, two per cent of programmes monitored - mainly feature films and drama - accounted for nearly half of all screen violence.

Marmaduke Hussey, chairman of the BBC board of governors, welcomed the study as "an authoritative independent piece of academic research" which proved that the corporation took concern over screen violence "very seriously".

Yesterday's publication follows demands last month by the Department of National Heritage on the BBC to accept a clause on taste and decency which would to curb violence in programmes in its new charter.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, said the study was "a constructive step forward in informing public debate", adding: "I am pleased that both the BBC and ITC have given this issue high priority."

A detailed assessment of the nature and possible impact of the violence will be completed in the autumn in time for a BBC seminar on how public standards of taste and decency have changed.

Sir George Russell, chairman of the ITC, said that the commission had asked television companies last year to reduce the levels of screen violence. "The fall in the amount on terrestrial channels is a move in the right direction."

The research, completed by Dr Barrie Gunter, also found that a fifth of violent acts appeared in children's programmes, but these were mainly in cartoons and animation. Otherwise, the bulk of violence occurred after the watershed suggesting, the report concluded, that it was "an effective turning point in the schedule".