'Brass Eye': Ministers say no plan to interfere

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Indy Politics

The Government made a concerted effort yesterday to take the heat out of the furore surrounding the Channel 4 Brass Eye show which focused on attitudes to child abuse.

As ministers faced anger for condemning the programme when they had not even seen it, Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, reassured television chiefs that she did not want to censor programmes or interfere in scheduling.

The row over the programme, which tricked celebrities into endorsing fake anti-paedophilia campaigns, dismayed Downing Street. A senior source told The Independent: "We are anxious to draw a line under this." The controversy overshadowed the launch of plans to tighten checks on sex offenders released from prison and laid ministers open to charges of interfering in broadcasters' freedom.

Ms Jowell's soothing message came in telephone calls with Sir Robin Biggam, the chairman of the Independent Television Commission (ITC), and Michael Jackson, the Channel 4 chief executive.

She ruled out a return to television regulators routinely vetting programmes. "We don't want to get into censorship. We want a regulatory structure that supports programme makers who make programmes, broadcast programmes, that pay... proper respect to public taste and decency."

Ms Jowell, who condemned Channel 4's decision to repeat the programme on Friday, 24 hours after its original transmission, said she would hold further talks with the ITC over "the adequacy and speed of the system of complaints so it can best represent the public to broadcasters".

The ITC said it had received 700 complaints about Brass Eye which it would assess "as quickly as possible, bearing in mind due process and the need to allow Channel 4 to put its case".

Channel 4 said it stood by its decision to broadcast the programme, which was "satirising the media hysteria surrounding the subject".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We are not talking about the Government dictating what should or shouldn't be broadcast. Satire is very important... but there are limits to satire and there have to be boundaries of decency."

The attempts to defuse the row came after David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, and Beverley Hughes, the Home Office minister, issued fiercely worded condemnations of the programme. Ms Hughes said: "I have not seen the whole programme. I really don't want to."

Their comments were criticised by the former BBC and ITN chief, Sir Paul Fox. "I think they have to have the courtesy to have seen the programme before they go in at the deep end."

David Quantick, the writer of Brass Eye, said: "A lot of the complaints seemed to related to a programme that didn't go out. The programme was a satire of media treatment of paedophiles. Many people who condemned it, did not watch it."