TV reconstruction of violence attacked: Broadcasting watchdog expresses doubts after survey finds distaste for 'entertaining' crime dramatisations. Maggie Brown reports

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THE SPREAD of crime reconstruction programmes which re-enact violent crimes, sometimes using music to heighten the dramatic impact, was singled out yesterday as a matter of public concern by the Broadcasting Standards Council.

Its fourth annual review, published yesterday, shows that 66 per cent thought there was too much violence on television and only 32 per cent that levels were about right: this majority view is unchanged over four years of research.

Screen violence was most acceptable when it was on the news. It was less acceptable and confusing when included in crime reconstructions, which carry the prospect of entertainment.

However, reconstructions in programmes such as BBC 1's Crimewatch, designed to catch criminals, are accepted as useful.

Lady Howe, chair of the BSC, said the findings raised the question of whether reconstructions of crimes, which rake over old ground after they have been solved, should be broadcast. This growing category includes Michael Winner's True Crimes, made for ITV.

Viewers were also uneasy with certain 'fly on the wall' crime programmes. Groups were shown an extract of Cops, an American series screened by BSkyB on Saturday evenings, in which a suspect was cornered by a police dog. One group called it 'kind of sick'. The research says the violence would only have been valid if it had been a news story or part of a documentary.

The research also found women of all ages were most concerned about TV violence.

Colin Shaw, director of the BSC, said of the rise in reconstructions: 'It may well be a trend. If so, it is an inevitable consequence of the pressure for ratings, audiences and advertising revenue.' He would be distressed if broadcasts with convicted murders became a trend.

Ray Fitzwalter, former executive editor of World In Action, said programme makers should always play down violent events when dramatising them.

In an essay accompanying the research, Mr Fitzwalter says British television shows clear signs of heading towards lower American standards: he cited an NBC programme composed of videos of people dying. 'Given the ferocious nature of unbridled commercial pressures when turned loose, it suggests that a strong risk of a drop in standards might overwhelm a history of responsible attempts to get it right.'

The research also found that viewers think there are some things that should not be screened at all. One of the seven video clips researchers used was of Dennis Nilsen, the serial killer, interviewed for Central Television's Viewpoint'93, Murder in Mind. There was near unanimity that he should not be given 'star' status.

The BSC, which received 11 complaints after the broadcast, ruled earlier this year that the programme had been a proper area for television to investigate, but criticised Central for the tone and style of presentation of the interview.

The BSC research, by MORI, polled 1,296 people for their views about violence, sex and bad language on television. Then 260 people were shown video clips in a more intense qualitative survey by Leeds University experts.

Annual Review: Violence in Factual Television; Broadcasting Standards Council.