TV not as violent as Tories claim

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Just 1.2 per cent of television screen time in Britain is taken up by violent acts, according to a study by Sheffield University to be published this week.

The low incidence of violence on terrestrial and satellite television will undermine the high-profile campaign by Virginia Bottomley, the Heritage Secretary, to clean up the airwaves.

The study, sponsored by the Independent Television Commission, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB, covers 10 channels, viewed over several weeks by Sheffield researchers. In addition to BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV and Channel 4, the team watched Sky One, Sky Movies, the Movie Channel, UK Gold, Sky Sports and TNT. The sponsors declined to comment on the study. The ITC said: "We do not yet have a final version of this report, and therefore are not able to comment on the details."

The Independent on Sunday has learned, however, that the most violent channels are BSkyB's movie and sport services. Of the terrestrial channels, ITV had the largest amount of violent programming, followed by BBC1, Channel 4 and BBC 2. UK Gold, the "golden oldie" channel, scored the lowest level.

The results are broadly similar to those in a Sheffield report published last year, which found a violence incidence of about 1 per cent. However, Sky Sports and TNT, which features children's programmes, were not included in the previous study.

The researchers were asked to note every instance of violence during the study period - from a cartoon slap to a boxing match bust-up to a grisly murder. To avoid skewing the sample by registering several programmes in a multi-part series, the study covered a number of different days over several weeks.

But despite the wide definition of "violence", and the fact that the study covered even sporting events and Hollywood movies, nearly 99 per cent of screen time was found to contain no violence whatsoever.

"This points up just how politically inspired the Government's campaign really is," said a senior broadcaster. Without the inclusion of BSkyB's movie channels, the incidence would have been even lower.

Some broadcasters have questioned why the same criteria are applied to satellite and cable channels, which attract niche audiences for specific kinds of programmes, and to mainstream television, which is produced with a mass audience in mind.

"It's hardly surprising that a lot of [violence] is concentrated on certain channels, which people pay extra to see," said one source at a sponsoring broadcaster. "And we wondered why the study looked at sports channels and cartoons in the same way as mainstream popular drama."