Drug-taking in movies 'should depict the reality'

Severin Carrell
Saturday 17 September 2011 14:27

Broadcasters and film-makers have been told to make images of drug-taking less melodramatic.

Broadcasters and film-makers have been told to make images of drug-taking less melodramatic.

A study published yesterday claims many young people believe that alarmist images of drug abuse on television and in films weakens the message against using hard drugs.

But the report, published jointly by the Broadcasting Standards Commission and the British Board of Film Classification, also disputed claims that TV and film have a big influence on drug-taking.

Knowing the Score said the "overwhelming majority" of the 170 people questioned at length for the study did not feel film and TV had promoted drug use to them. School, friends and social settings were much more influential factors, it said. They provided "the example, the drugs, the enthusiasm and the reassurance".

The study, which focused mainly on people aged 11 to 35 and on those who used or had sampled illegal drugs, will rekindle the long-running debate about the power and influence of the mass media.

Early studies by the Health Education Authority and the Broadcasting Standards Council, the commission's predecessor, found 70 to 80 per cent of teenagers said the media was a main sources of information on drugs.

But the new report's author, Arnold Cragg, said a "careful balance" had to be struck between showing the dangers of drug use and recognising that some people sought "pleasurable effects" and wanted to experiment.

"The sort of realistic portrayal which makes the fear of use well founded seems likely to best serve the public interest," he concluded. "When credible, it is less easily demolished by mocking friends and contrary personal experience."

Robin Duval, the board's director, said the findings would have to be "carefully considered" during its review of film classifications, due to end this summer. "The present research shows that simply representing drug taking in a negative way will not be effective among existing drug takers," he said.

But it was a dilemma, Mr Cragg said. Two men in the survey said Trainspotting, Danny Boyle's film of Irvine Welsh's novel about addicts in Edinburgh in the early 1980s, persuaded them to use heroin.

One smoked the drug after seeing the film, the other claimed it taught him how to inject. However, most respondents said the film made drug use look "dirty".

The characters played by John Travolta and Uma Thurman in the film Pulp Fiction, made by Quentin Tarantino in 1994, also made drug-taking look "glamorous". But, although the film "pushed at the limits" of acceptable portrayals of drug use, most respondents felt the graphic scene where Thurman's character overdosed turned them heavily against heroin.

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