Viewers uneasy at television sex guidelines

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The Independent Online

Media Correspondent

Viewers still depend heavily on the timing of a television programme to decide whether it is likely to have sex, violence or swearing in it.

According to research by the Broadcasting Standards Council, most still rely on the 9pm watershed to decide whether programmes will be suitable for children or not, and nearly all want more information about programme content.

The BSC survey of 1,000 men and women, published yesterday, found that 86 per cent of people were in favour of the 9pm watershed, but 41 per cent wanted it to be later at the weekend.

Respondents were divided over whether the 9pm crossover point should apply to news, with 40 per cent saying it should and 52 per cent saying it should not. Only 9 per cent did not want a watershed on satellite or cable television.

Most viewers did not want all broadcasting to be suitable for children, but feel strongly that schedulers should put out programmes at an appropriate time. There was still marked unease about sex and violence, with viewers expressing concern about a lesbian kiss shown in EastEnders. Broadcast warnings of adult material - which could take the form of symbols in listings pages - were backed by 94 per cent of respondents. Of those, 77 per cent thought rape scenes and "distressing scenes about children" might require a warning. Violence was cited by 74 per cent, "extreme sex" by 71 per cent and bad language by 65 per cent.

The researchers also asked men and women to recreate their personal television schedule from memory, naming the transmission days and times of programmes. The differences between the schedules reveals the male bias of programmes such as Panorama and Newsnight and the female preference for shows such as 2point4 children and Bramwell.

The embarrassingly blank spaces also reveal the long-running shows which have failed to find a place in the nation's psyche, such as Wish You Were Here, Dispatches and Horizon. Surprisingly, perhaps, the men's list showed knowledge of the day and time of a number of daytime programmes, including Home & Away, Neighbours and Star Trek.

Although very similar, the women's daytime list also included programmes squarely aimed at a female audience such as This Morning and Oprah.

BBC1's Nine O'Clock News and ITN's News at Ten were listed by both men and women. But Channel 4's 7pm bulletin - which attracts an older audience - did not get a mention.

Audience reactions to particular scenes in programmes were also examined. A quarter of respondents said of a lesbian kiss in EastEnders that such material should not be in a soap opera at all, while 29 per cent felt it should not have been shown at the time scheduled.

In contrast, viewers did not react badly to a scene in Emmerdale that showed a violent raid on a post office and the taking of a hostage.

Ninety-four per cent said guidance on the content of programmes should be available on listings pages.