Bottomley warns broadcasters to safeguard decency

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The Independent Online

Media Correspondent

Broadcasters last night received a strong reminder from Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, to take care over the images and values they present to children and young people.

Delivering the keynote speech at the Royal Television Society's biannual convention in Cambridge, Mrs Bottomley said that while television was "overwhelmingly a force for good", programme providers had to be sensitive to public concern over standards of taste and decency.

She told an audience which included the most influential figures in British television: "Power must entail responsibility. Nowhere is this clearer than in the maintenance of appropriate standards of impartiality and taste and decency in our television programmes. We care about what our children see on their television screens. We know that it has an impact on them.

"Research showed that only a small minority of programmes contain scenes of violence. Equally, you may be struck by the recent comment by Professor Philip Graham, a child psychiatrist from Great Ormond Street and chairman of the National Children's Bureau, that while less than 1 per cent of football involves scoring goals, it's the goals people remember."

Ms Bottomley praised the work of the Broadcasting Standards Council in providing a mechanism for viewer concerns to be aired and complaints investigated. She continued: "Nobody wants the Heritage Secretary to be a `cultural commissar'. I do not want to stifle innovation and creativity."

She confirmed that the BBC's new charter would include obligations to provide programmes of interest to all the nation, observe due impartiality in its reporting, and uphold high standards of taste and decency.

Commenting on the Government's recent proposals to reform the rules governing cross-media ownership, Ms Bottomley said there was a need for controls to safeguard pluralism and diversity beyond competition law. "What we can and do say is that a free market is right, but, to remain free, some public safeguards are needed."

This principle, she said, also underpinned the Government's approach to digital television and conditional access. While providers of encryption technology and subscription systems had an important part to play in the digital revolution, controls had to be in place to prevent them from discriminating against rival broadcasters wishing to use their services.