MEDIA: Regulators should give this V chip ‘saviour’ the V sign

Just minutes into the first episode of Lynda La Plante’s new series of The Governor last Saturday there was a sickeningly violent scene: a warder’s face was repeatedly smashed against a toilet bowl, until the blood ran.

Just minutes into the first episode of Lynda La Plante’s new series of

The Governor last Saturday there was a sickeningly violent scene: a

warder’s face was repeatedly smashed against a toilet bowl, until the

blood ran.



Lunching with the Independent Television Commission’s officials on

Monday I discovered that the programme had been watched by an official

monitor, and the incident, broadcast only minutes after the 9pm

watershed was already under scrutiny.



This is the way programme standards are largely shaped in Britain, by

reference to codes combined with a firm eye on public complaints...but

only after the programmes have been broadcast. Some say the system is

flawed as once a screening has taken place, the damage has been done:

that it gives inadequate attention to the cumulative effect of one

violent programme after another.



But do we want to surrender it for another model? This is the serious

regulatory issue posed by the ‘V chip’. Last week the Advertising

Association organised a seminar at the Department of National Heritage

dedicated to this cheap, electronic ‘saviour’ which, if fitted to TV

sets, could allow parents, using a password, to block access to

unsuitable programmes. In the US, President Clinton has accepted that in

two years’ time all sets should be fitted, with programmes classified on

a scale of one to four.



The European Parliament has voted, in principle, to go down the same

route. But is it right, or plain ignorant? Instead of an abstract

debate, let us suppose that the V chip has arrived in Britain and The

Governor is being screened. The broadcaster would be responsible for

giving it a classification code of four (adults only). If I, as an

adult, complained about levels of violence in the programme I could be

rightly told that I should simply programme my V chip to avoid category

4 in the future. Once you look at it this way you immediately grasp why

Mary Whitehouse is right in condemning the chip.



And that the professional regulators, the ITC, BBC, and Broadcasting

Standards Councils, who ought to be giving a lead in this matter, have

been shamefully equivocal, playing politics by appearing to be

reasonable, rather than telling the Government it’s a bad idea. It would

do nothing to raise standards and make broadcasters more responsible,

nor reduce the amount of violence broadcast. But it would provide them

with the perfect cop-out.



Nor would it address the problem of how to protect the most vulnerable,

disturbed adults as much as children, since these are precisely the

groups who will either be drawn to violent screen images, or have

parents who do not bother about what they view.

The V chip is a piece of technology, not a saviour. It should be

rejected.



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