Standards are falling, says BBC governor

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Media Correspondent

A BBC governor yesterday accused broadcasters of opening the floodgates on bad language while inching viewers towards unacceptable standards of taste and decency.

In a blunt address to the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge, Bill Jordan, a former member of the TUC General Council and a governor since 1988, told delegates: "There is a problem and it's almost a question of incremental moves towards what might be called a standard that is unacceptable.

"As you get older, you ask when is it going to stop and you realise that young people out there will take it further. In 10 years' time, the things that you think are unshowable now will be showable. Take bad language - the floodgates are now open."

Mr Jordan, who as a BBC governor will ensure the corporation meets its new charter obligations on taste and decency, also accused broadcasters of failing to take public concern seriously. "It's like the police investigating the police - you're really only interested in your jobs."

Competition clearly has no conscience, it has to succeed or it's dead, he said. "You are one of the most powerful institutions without a shadow of doubt.

"I can recall another powerful institution of which I was an honourable member. It exercised tremendous power and every time you questioned us, we had a justifiable answer. Suddenly one day, the public said: 'Hold on, you have to learn the difference between what is right for the whole of the country and whether it's for your own self-interest'."

Mr Jordan's attack provoked instant criticism. David Elstein, head of programmes at BSkyB, accused the BBC governor of wanting to "wind the clock back" 30 years to a time when "a black and white kiss between a man and woman would have been untransmittable. You must judge standards by the day in which you're operating".

Lady Howe, chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council, the statutory taste and decency watchdog, argued that broadcasters needed to be more sensitive to viewer worries and expressed concern that children were gaining access to late night soft-porn on satellite and cable. "Why are the broadcasters so uptight about this? Accountability is the name of the game today," she said. "There is a need increasingly for the consumer to have their views independently looked at."

Michael Grade, the chief executive of Channel 4 who once described the BSC as "new puritan zealots", said that all broadcasters were aware of their responsibilities, while urging regulators to remember that the vast majority of television homes did not have children. "We have to hold the ring between a family point of view, which is a very important constituency, and those who are mortified if feature films are cut and their viewing is nannied."