Leading Article: Will TV change this arcadia?

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TWO MODERN phenomena are about to hit one of Britain's last colonies. Next month the island of St Helena, marooned 1,100 miles off the west coast of Africa, will receive its first television pictures and programmes. For the next four years the effects on the island's population (5,500) will be monitored by a team of psychologists. There will therefore be primary watchers, watching television for the first time, and secondary watchers, watching the watchers; all this newness in a place where the last (indeed only) event of global significance was the death of Napoleon in 1821. And now, Neighbours, Baywatch, Bullseye, Jeremy Beadle]

Dr Tony Charlton, the British psychologist who is leading the research, said last week that St Helenans and their children represented 'an unprecedented opportunity . . . a unique control group' through which to study the couch-potato effect, the crime effect, the disintegrating family effect, and even that old Reithian idea (remember it?), the educational effect. St Helena at the moment sounds a desirable place; its children aged between nine and eleven have the lowest rate of behavioural problems in the world, there is no truanting, the island jail contains only three prisoners. Television looks likely to change this arcadia, and it will be interesting to discover how and why. A more definitive and useful study, however, would include the even remoter island of Tristan da Cunha, 1,300 miles to the south west. Its 300 inhabitants, still without television, would be shown only good and improving programmes: wildlife, Sesame Street, Dad's Army, Muffin the Mule. St Helena, meanwhile, would be completely restricted to a diet of violence and pap. Comparisons could then be made, and the lessons immediately and conveniently forgotten.