Grade attacks BSkyB over sex and violence: Channel 4's chief says double standards in regulation will 'coarsen public taste'

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL GRADE, the chief executive of Channel 4, launched a scathing attack on Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB satellite television service last night, arguing that its services ran the risk of lowering overall standards.

Mr Grade, delivering the James Cameron Memorial Lecture at City University in London, said that there were double-standards at play in television regulation, which allowed satellite services to show far more violent and sexually explicit material.

'If satellite television is allowed to do just as it likes, it will inevitably drag the rest of the system down,' Mr Grade said. 'And such coarsening of public taste must undermine what public-service broadcasting has sought to establish over decades.'

Mr Grade used the lecture to enter the debate on violence and television, arguing that 'all the surveys' showed that violence on terrestrial television had declined in the last 20 years. Despite this, critics of screen violence failed to differentiate between terrestrial broadcasters and their satellite competitors. A recent newspaper survey found that 401 killings were shown in one week on eight British television channels but 289 of them - 72 per cent - were on the two Sky Movie channels.

The public-service terrestrial channels, he said, were 'shackled to Mr Murdoch's evangelical outlet, Sky's Movie Plus channel - one of whose recent offerings, Death Watch, provides such delectable fare as prison inmates being smashed across the face with dumb bells, speared with poles, having eyes sliced like salami with a circular saw and their faces gouged with crushed light bulbs.'

Warming to his subject, Mr Grade acknowledged Mr Murdoch's recent warning to senior executives that 'there are limits'.

'Who draws them,' asked Mr Grade. 'The Yorkshire Ripper?'

He blamed the Government's 'market philosophy' for satellite television's 'endless succession of violent and sexually exploitative films'. Public-service broadcasters are not infallible, he conceded. But there were only a handful of legitimate cases of public concern out of thousands of hours of programming annually.

Mr Grade concluded: 'I must say I found somewhat risible the spectacle of this Government huffing and puffing in righteous indignation at the horrid prospect of Red Hot Dutch and other soft and hard porn polluting our airwaves whilst apparently not noticing the delectable fare being served up on the Sky Movie channels such as Emmanuelle, The Monk - 'A tale of forbidden passion, set in 18th-century Madrid, between a young monk and a seductress in league with the devil' - and RSVP - an 'erotic adult comedy'. . . and this with their active connivance.

'I ought to resist the cynical conclusion that the proprietors of Red Hot Dutch own no newspapers and are therefore in no position of electoral support. But I can't. I'm sure I don't have to remind people that Rupert Murdoch is the only proprietor of British national newspapers who is allowed to own more than 20 per cent of a licensed television service.'