Television and the Young: TV chiefs call on Major to prove violence claims

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The Independent Online
TELEVISION programmers yesterday denied any responsibility for the 'relentless diet' of screen violence which John Major claims is being fed to children and demanded that the Prime Minister should provide specific programme examples.

Nick Elliot, managing director of London Weekend Television programmes, said: 'I genuinely think that we are not guilty. If the Prime Minister thinks we are doing wrong he has to provide instances. But accusations like this are usually short on specifics.'

Mr Elliot said TV companies had to comply with broadcasting legislation as regards taste and decency. He could think of few, if any, recent instances of breaches.

The day after Mr Major's call to television programmers to be careful about what was shown as well as when it was shown, Alan Yentob, controller of BBC1, defended his station's record on BBC's Breakfast with Frost. He told David Frost that there were very few occasions when the BBC 'got it wrong' in its fiction out- put. The BBC has been strongly criticised for violence in the hospital drama Casualty.

He argued that the BBC could not be held responsible for children watching programmes recorded on video after the 9pm watershed. 'This is the issue on which I agree with the Prime Minister. You cannot avoid parental responsibility. Ever since the video arrived you have been able to video a show and look at it later. I think there has to be a debate in every household. I have a child myself and I don't think you can just defer the responsibility entirely on to the broadcaster.'

He added that there was no evidence of a causal link between screen violence and 'copycat' crime on the street.

Michael Winner, censorship officer of the Directors Guild of Great Britain, said cynical politicking was behind Mr Major's accusations. Mr Winner, whose Death Wish movies have been criticised for their violent content, said: 'John Major is responding to political pressures. All the opinion polls show him going down the toilet. Politicians usually seek an easy scapegoat for their own shortcomings.'

'The Prime Minister's argument is ridiculous. Does anyone seriously believe that if you reduce screen violence by say 10 per cent that a mugger will think, 'That was one less blow on The Bill last night so I won't assault this old lady, I will do her shopping'?

'This country is already the most censored in the free world in respect of television and film. I have made family films but we cannot always make nice films about nice people doing nice things. We have to reflect what goes on. The most violent TV and cinema is in Japan: anything goes. But the crime rate in Japan is a tenth of the UK's'

But the Prime Minister's call to film, video and TV producers was warmly welcomed by Lord Rees- Mogg, chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council, who said responsibility did lie with them.

Lord Rees-Mogg said: 'For the past 10 or 15 years film-makers have been producing films which are ultra-violent, exploiting violence of an extreme kind. The cumulative effect is anti-social.'

He said that to argue that cinema did not have a powerful effect on human behaviour was to suggest that TV advertising was a waste of money and independent television should close down. He said he worried about violence in films, television and videos and was particularly concerned by the transmission of pornography and violence to Britain from EC countries with looser regulations.

The actor Sir Anthony Hopkins said last week that he might not take part in the sequel to Silence of the Lambs, in which he played a serial killer, because of his concerns about social violence.

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