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
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