Abroad: Prime Minister signs a petition

CONCERN about television violence is not confined to Britain - and, as in Britain, the impetus for reform can come from a single murdered child, writes Hugh Winsor.

In March 1991, Marie-Eve Lariviere, aged 11, was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered while on an errand to a shop in a Montreal suburb. Her sister Virginie, 14, previously a fan of Terminator films, collected 1.3 million signatures for a petition against television violence.

She was invited to meet the Canadian Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, who added his signature. And she gave graphic testimony to the all-party parliamentary committee set up in response to her petition. She decided to undertake her crusade, she said, as she stared at her sister's coffin and wondered why anyone could kill. 'What came to mind was all the violence on television. I thought that maybe people don't understand any more that death is real. I thought that maybe if all the violence and death stops on TV, maybe it will stop in real life.' An average child of her age has seen 18,000 television murders, she said.

Last week, the committee issued a preliminary report calling for controls on 'egregious forms of video/television violence'. It says such controls should be voluntary and backed by tax and other financial incentives to encourage production of non-violent programmes and tougher restrictions on imports of violent videos. It also wants a campaign to persuade parents to stop their children watching screen violence. But it proposes legislation to enforce controls if the voluntary approach fails.

This has led to protests from writers, producers and broadcasters. But the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation takes a different view. Last month, the corporation's chairman, Keith Spicer, said: 'The new ground we can break here is to recognise that gratuitous and glamorised violence on television is not primarily a free speech issue; it is a child-protection issue. Television brings violence home to our children in the most intimate, intrusive way.'