Napoleon island to end TV exile: As St Helena prepares to switch on, a researcher asks how programmes will alter the remote community's life

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The Independent Online
TELEVISION will be broadcast for the first time to the citizens of St Helena, one of the most remote islands in the world, allowing scientists to test its effects on behaviour.

The island in the south-east Atlantic where Napoleon died in exile after Waterloo will soon receive Tom and Jerry and The Flinstones - as well as the BBC - by satellite.

A British psychologist, Dr Tony Charlton, will lead a four-year study of television's influence on the 5,700 islanders.

Cable and Wireless, the telecommunications company, is finalising plans to broadcast two 24-hour channels: BBC World Service Television and MNET, a South African commercial service.

The only access St Helena's residents have to news at the moment is on shortwave radio from the BBC World Service. Ferries arrive every six weeks and the airstrip has still not been built. There are three video libraries but no cinema.

This isolation attracted Dr Charlton, a research fellow at Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education. 'The complete absence of live TV is so rare,' he said. 'St Helena presents an unprecedented opportunity to study the effects of television.'

Dr Charlton will study its effects on children's concentration and behaviour. He is also looking at parents' attempts at censorship.

St Helena is remarkable because of its near-absence of crime. 'I found far fewer cases of children with special needs on St Helena, and no support services were needed. Only 3.4 per cent of 9 to 12-year-oldson St Helena have behavioural problems, whereas in London it is 14 per cent,' Dr Charlton said. St Helena's enviable social calm may be threatened by the invasion of television. A research paper in 1986 on a study of a remote valley in Canada found the introduction of television had negative effects. Children became 'couch potatoes', abandoning outdoor pursuits.

George Stevens, the general manager of Cable and Wireless in St Helena, which is a British dependency, disagreed: 'I don't think there will be much of a problem. We've got videos already and the island is just about crime-free.' Locals in the White Horse pub at Jamestown, the capital of St Helena, were less sure. Colin Thomas, an educational department technician at Prince Andrew's School, said: 'We don't get much entertainment here.' But he had doubts about what children might watch. 'You have got to take into account the ages of children and try to protect them by censoring programmes,' he said.

Mavis de Matos, manager of the only greengrocer's shop on the island said: 'The advantage of TV is that we would get to see what is happenening in the outside world now rather than in two or three months' time.'

Ivy Robinson, part owner of Wellington house, one of three hotels in St Helena, said: 'I would like to see television and the news, particularly as I've never left the island. Monitoring programmes would not be a problem. St Helena parents have control over their children. We grow up with our families - a lot of people still live with their families even when they're married. We keep the family together.'

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