Young criminals 'prefer soaps to horror'

YOUNG CRIMINALS watch the same television programmes and films as non-offenders, with both groups preferring soap operas to screen violence and horror, a study published yesterday revealed.

The new research provides support to the Government and anti- censorship campaigners who argue that there is still no proven link between crime and screen violence and that banning more videos and films would be pointless.

Researchers compared the viewing habits during 1993 of 78 persistent young offenders aged 12 to 18 with more than 500 schoolchildren of the same age. On average, the offenders had been convicted of 11 crimes in the previous year, typically burglary, theft, criminal damage and traffic violations.

While the report by the Policy Studies Institute draws no conclusion about the link between screen and real-life violence, it reveals that for both groups the most popular television programmes were soap operas such as Home and Away, The Bill and Neighbours, and the favourite film was Terminator 2 - which has a 15 certificate.

Other findings in Young Offenders And The Media: viewing habits and preferences, funded by the British Board of Film Classification, the BBC, the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Independent Television Commission, included:

Films portraying violent criminal lifestyles were favourites for only a small minority of offenders;

Offenders had less access to television. More than 33 per cent lived in a home with just one television set, while only 3 per cent of other children faced the same restriction;

A 'striking' number of offenders watched television late at night, long past the 9pm watershed;

One-third of the offenders hardly ever or never read a newspaper, compared with one in ten schoolchildren. The most popular newspaper with the offenders was the Sun;

The majority of both groups played computer and video games, but offenders preferred more violent games.

James Ferman, director of the BBFC, said yesterday that the media had been used as a 'scapegoat' for crime committed by youngsters. 'You have a high degree of drug and alcohol abuse among young offenders which seems far more relevant to their lives,' he said.