So where is this depraved and violent diet? Not on my telly

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Yesterday Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, launched a four-point package to crack down on explicit violence on television.

This should please those who have been salivating over "the dark and brutal side of television" for some time, although with its emphasis on violence rather than sex this is doubtful.

Also doubtful is whether this ineffectual package will persuade us that the Government, spurred on by the demands for a "moral revival" in the wake of the London headmaster Philip Lawrence's murder and the Dunblane tragedy, is trying to reduce the general level of violence in society.

It is fairly easy, after all, to find a consensus around the on-screen representation of violence. Most parents are far more concerned about scenes of violence than on-screen sex, although the two are always linked as if they were equally objectionable.

Right-wingers have been calling for a crackdown on "the degrading diet of sex, drugs and violence" that we feed our children.

Note that violence comes in only at third place, after sex and drugs. This degrading "diet of sex, drugs and violence" is found, apparently, in the most popular of the pre-watershed programming - EastEnders, The Bill and Brookside are singled out for particular condemnation. As always, one has to wonder whether those who feel that our nation's youth is being corrupted by soap operas actually watch any of these programmes. Certainly children, unlike those who would save us from ourselves and from our televisions, appear to grasp that they are watching drama rather than documentary. The soaps are also, in their own way, intensely moralistic - promoting as they do the value notions of neighbourliness, and community and family life. The controversial incest storyline of Brookside did not need to carry a government health warning - "Don't try this at home, kids" - because rather than in any way glamorising incest it has made it look relentlessly dreary, with the siblings Nat andGeor gia constantly arguing or crying while the lives of the rest of their family are destroyed. EastEnders is also being persecuted for the shooting of the character Ian Beale. Yet what has really upset the new moralists is not any kind of violence but the gay kiss between Tony and Simon and the programme's discussion of HIV. Programmes that do co ntain violence, like Prime Suspect and Cracker, incidentally two of our finest dramas, are already shown after the watershed. Mrs Bottomley has voiced concern about the number of children who have television sets in their bedrooms yet surely this is a problem of parenting rather than broadcasting. Pressing for more rigorous observance of the watershed will do little to change the numbers of unsupervised children viewing unsuitable programmes. Crimewatch and all those other crime-reconstruction programmes, I would suggest, are unsuitable viewing both for children and for discerning adults. Of course no one wants their children to watch scenes of gratuitous violence but on the whole the watershed is already being observed by broadcasters. Using our fear of a violent society to try and censor some of the most socially responsive drama is irr esponsible. The gratuitous linking of sex and violence only signals our own moral confusion as well as making an increasingly illiberal agenda. Unless we sever this link we will never have a grown-up discussion about what it is that we are truly afraid of. It's time we did: but surely the place to do it is not in front of the children. Bottomley's stick, page 7