In the annual Fleming memorial lecture at the Banqueting Hall in London, he said there was 'a despairing sense that values are disintegrating' among the young.
'We can ensure that our programmes do not promote the culture of cruelty and violence. We will do nothing to encourage anyone to think there is kudos or status to be earned by inflicting pain and damage to another human being.'
He said the BBC should help young people by broadening their knowledge and experience and raising their aspirations. 'We cannot by ourselves solve problems but we can help those who can,' he said.
In an hour-long speech he responded to fears that initiative to give producers the opportunity to make films independently for a fee would reduce in-house skills and expertise. He said: 'We will not turn the BBC into a publisher-broadcaster.'
He said the BBC should not fall into the trap of chasing ratings with populist programmes and must avoid becoming an 'elitist repository for the broadcasting no one else wants to provide'.
'We are dedicated to opening our arms to the whole population with programmes of every type.'
Mr Birt also referred to the row about his tax arrangements, saying: 'No-one should doubt how much I regret exposing the organisation to such unwarranted turmoil in recent weeks.'Reuse content