TV chief demands end to screen censorship

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The Independent Online
TELEVISION VIEWERS should have the right to watch whatever they like without regulatory "busybodies" imposing their tastes on the public, the industry was told last night.

Peter Bazalgette, the man behind Changing Rooms and Can't Cook Won't Cook, used the annual MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival to call for more viewer power as we move into the digital age.

"It should be up to the audience to decide what the audience wants to see," he told a gathering of television's senior executives. "In the end, with individual electronic programme guides, we will make our own selections and we will bar our children from material we think unsuitable.

"From now on, the audience will decide what is quality and what isn't. We will please ourselves."

Mr Bazalgette is managing director of the independent production company Bazal, which has been successful with a new kind of leisure programming that concentrates on gardening, home interests and cookery shows. Before going independent, he was a leading BBC producer.

In his lecture, Mr Bazalgette called for the scrapping of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, one of the two watchdogs that monitor television output. He described the commission's chairwoman, Lady Howe, wife of the former foreign secretary, as the "biggest busybody of them all" and he called the regulatory body a "toothless poodle". Declaring that regulators have "a compulsion to impose their taste on the rest of us", he also called for a curbing of the powers of the Independent Television Commission, which oversees commercial broadcasters.

Instead of regulators, Mr Bazalgette argued that viewers switching off will be the way to determine the quality of television programmes. He also predicted that the 9pm "watershed" would wither away once multi-channel television becomes widespread.

He argued that, because viewers will decide what constitutes quality, ITV's obligation to air public service programming should be ended.

As a condition of their franchise licences, ITV broadcasters have to maintain quotas of religious, educational and regional programmes set by the ITC. By getting rid of the quotas, and reducing the money that broadcasters pay for the licences, Mr Bazalgette said he hoped to see the ITC "cut down to size".

Replying to Mr Bazalgette's criticism, a spokesman for the Broadcasting Standards Commission said: "Whilst he may represent the views of some programme makers he has misread the views of the consumers of broadcasting." Viewers supported the principle of taste and decency guidelines and the 9pm watershed for family viewing, he said.

The MacTaggart lecture has become a traditional vehicle for controversial speeches. Three years ago, Janet Street-Porter attacked the industry for being run by "middle-aged, middle-class, mediocre men". Dennis Potter, the late dramatist, used his speech to call Sir John Birt, BBC director- general, a "dalek".