Satellite TV criticised over sex and violence: Broadcasting Standards Council calls for more controls

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The Independent Online
SATELLITE television should exercise more control over how much sex, violence and bad language it screens, the Broadcasting Standards Council said yesterday on the publication of two new monitoring studies.

But complaints about and incidents of sex and violence on all other channels are at such low levels they do not substantiate fears expressed by the Prime Minister and others about media violence influencing society. Only 2 per cent of a sample of 600 viewers felt there was excessive sex and violence.

Lord Rees-Mogg, outgoing chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council, said BSkyB and other satellite stations should resume their abandoned relationship with the British Board of Film Classification, so that the BBFC can advise them on cutting explicit sex and violence from films, and on when to show the films.

Lord Rees-Mogg cited the Terminator films with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a violent hero as particularly worrying. 'When you get the good guy doing the violence then you haven't even got the implied morality you have when it is the villain,' he said.

However, when that film was on general release it was only given a 15 certificate by the BBFC. Lord Rees-Mogg's argument is further blurred by the fact that in 1991 and 1992, when the monitoring took place, BSkyB was consulting the BBFC.

Viewers in the BSC survey were asked to record each time they were shocked by sex, violence and bad language on their screens in a diary over several weeks in 1991 and 1992. The report concludes that 'concerns about and criticisms of standards on television are an occasional issue for most viewers. They are not a preoccupation solely of various minorities.'

It adds: 'The research demonstrates that about once every other week viewers' tolerance of television's portrayal of violence, sex or the use of bad language is tested.'

Before the 9pm watershed, fewer than 1 per cent of programmes were found to contain significant scenes of sex, violence or bad language. The use of bad language and violence in programmes watched by children was of most concern. But, after the watershed, programmes with unacceptable levels of sex, violence and bad language rose to 2 per cent in each case.

The survey found dramas, drama series and films account for 70 per cent of all unacceptable scenes, with explicit sex causing 'particular embarrassment and offence'. The survey also found clear support for warnings on pre-watershed programmes containing strong language.

But the BSC adds: 'A degree of strong language, explicit sex and violence did not necessarily detract from viewers' personal enjoyment of both plays and films.' The survey found no difference in the number of programmes on terrestrial channels - BBC 1 and 2, ITV and Channel 4 - which cause offence. The range was 1-3 per cent for each channel. But 6-7 per cent of post-watershed programmes on satellite channels were found to contain 'unjustifiable' sex, violence and bad language.

A separate study by researchers at Aston University in Birmingham monitored the sex, violence and bad language in 581 programmes screened on BBC 1 and 2, ITV and Channel 4 during two weeks last year. It found 1,991 individual cases of bad language, followed by 883 violent acts and 143 sex scenes.

Last night, BSkyB's head of programming, David Elstein, said: 'The viewers sampled were clearly unrepresentative, with some findings based on fewer than 50 responses. Even the survey's own authors discount such findings as unreliable.'

The most recent Independent Television Commission report showed there were no complaints about violence on cable or satellite TV in the first quarter of 1993. He added that BSkyB took screen violence very seriously and in the last week had devoted three hours of screen time to a debate on the topic.