Plastic fantasy or real life, take it or leave it: Debate, not regulation, should control screen violence, says Andrew Graham-Yooll

Share
Related Topics
THE RENEWED debate about television violence makes good reading. It also warns broadcasters and programme makers that their audiences are reaching saturation point or, more likely, that politicians have climbed on to the morality bandwagon.

The current season for bashing broadcasters was declared open by the Prime Minister with his remark against the 'relentless diet' of violence on the home screen. But if politicians are in a mood to encourage the idea that some form of censorship of television is advisable, or that a 'violence threshold' can be set, they are threatening the media with restrictions it could well do without.

Violence, in its degrees of objectionability, is as difficult to define as is invasion of privacy by the press. After publication of the Calcutt report in January, there was much concern about privacy and the need for a law to safeguard it. The outbursts from indignant politicians cowed that section of the press seen to be most offensive, and there the matter was dropped. In the meantime, lawyers had realised that, outside of a dictatorship, it was impossible to dictate the limits of privacy.

There is a whiff of similar tactics in the accusation that television might be the source of society's wave of evil. The charge is a useful distraction, but there is no evidence to prove it. Furthermore, British television, in spite of being excessively regulated, is the best in Europe, possibly the world. That is a personal opinion, but the strength of it will be obvious to anyone with a couple of languages who travels abroad regularly.

One kind of fictional television violence - the Schwarzenegger type - is little more than a masterly use of computers to produce crafty effects, but it should not be blamed for heinous effects on society. The young can usually deal with it because it is plastic fantasy.

The Silence of the Lambs is an example of the other sort of screen violence. Anthony Hopkins is to be praised for not wanting to do 'Son of Hannibal', but that is a personal professional decision which must not be seen as an example for society. He would have gained as much publicity whether he said he was doing a sequel or not. That's show business.

Anyway, The Silence of the Lambs was no more violent than, say, the abattoir scenes in a recent South Bank Show, or the scenes of the massacre of Sabra and Chatila in last Saturday's Fine Cut which told the story of David Yallop's search for the terrorist Carlos. And, of course, there is the daily violence of the civil war in Bosnia or scenes of war and starvation in Somalia. All this is brought to you with the pornographic obsession of the camera's eye as it settles on a burning church or the naked bodies of starving men and women. The broadcasters are not to blame for this violence; governments are guilty of not trying hard enough to stop it.

An excessive dose of violence on screen is offensive. But, at the end of the debate, violence on television is no more than an unpleasant experience which can be switched off, thereby telling the ratings-obsessed broadcasters that it is not desirable.

There are voices which argue that violence and pornography on the screen are good for some of us: they leave a majority of viewers drained of energy, their belligerent inclinations satiated.

But the main question about screen violence is how the excess is to be measured and the effect judged. Since John Major's remarks, numerous specialists have been interviewed, most of them in agreement that the effect of violence is difficult to judge, and that there are no reliable statistics.

Exactly the same difficulties arise when dealing with pornography and violence against women. A few years ago there was an earnest campaign aimed at showing causal links between the two. The results were inconclusive. Violence is a crime; peddling pornography is a crime. But the criminality of audiences who watch violent or pornographic scenes is unquantifiable and unclassifiable.

The threat posed by television violence will be removed ultimately by providing Mr and Mrs Viewer with the discipline to reject it. That is achieved by improving standards of education. In the meantime, the temptation to extend regulation of television should be resisted. Ventilation of these matters has proved, historically, to have more lasting benefits than censorship.

Andrew Graham-Yooll is the editor of 'Index on Censorship'.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook  

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot