Talks on 'rolling watershed' for violence on TV

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The Independent Online
VIOLENT and sexually explicit television programmes would be introduced into the evening schedules in defined stages after 9pm, if a plan for a 'rolling watershed' is agreed between Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, and broadcasting's regulatory authorities.

Mr Brooke has invited leaders of the BBC, the Independent Television Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Council to separate meetings in the next few weeks to discuss the apparently growing concern about the effects of such programmes on children.

The existing 9pm watershed is supposed to represent the time by which most children are in bed, although it is recognised that, in reality, they are staying up later and later.

Mr Brooke is looking to the broadcasters to make the rules tougher. One idea is that, while family viewing should still end at 9pm, adult and violent material should be phased in gradually over the next hour-and-a-half.

If accepted, it could mean, for example, that the BBC's Crimewatch, one of its most violent and disturbing programmes, which now begins at 9.30pm, would have to be delayed until after 10pm.

The watershed is not legally binding - and Mr Brooke has no plan to make it so - but it is enforced rigorously by both the BBC and ITC. Broadcasters are opposed to any extension of it, pointing out that in most cases they regulate themselves and do not put out really strong material until well after 9pm.

The BBC today introduces an interest-free easy payments plan as its latest weapon in the war against licence fee dodgers. Viewers can now pay just over pounds 7 a month by direct debit, instead of a single payment of pounds 84.50, the fee for a colour set.

Over the past year, by improved detection and an advertising campaign, the BBC has cut its non-collection rate from 7.7 to 7 per cent of the 22 million households with sets. Rodney Baker-Bates, director of finance, said he hoped the total of 1.5 million evaders could be further reduced by the new scheme, which would ease the burden on those with financial difficulties.

Viewers opting for the monthly scheme begin payments six months before their licence is due for renewal. By the renewal date they will have paid half the fee, and the last six payments will be in arrears.

At the end of 1992, John Birt, the director-general, committed himself to making the licence fee easier to pay when he introduced Extending Choice, his blueprint for the corporation's future.

The existing easy-payments systems will continue - the licence savings stamps sold at post offices, and the quarterly direct debit, which carries an annual surcharge of pounds 5.

Viewers can apply for the new monthly facility - which is not applicable to the pounds 28 fee for black-and-white sets - by telephoning 0272 226666.

Mr Baker-Bates said that Producer Choice, where departments charge each other for services, is working so well the corporation may save an extra pounds 80m this year above what had been forecast. The money will be used to improve programmes.

How to complain about TV: Media, page 23