More Cruelty and Violence - 4

Shooting still the most common form of violence on TV


hooting remains the most common form of violence portrayed in films screened on the five terrestrial TV channels according to a new Report issued today by the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (now known as mediawatch-uk).

The Report, 'MORE CRUELTY AND VIOLENCE 4', analyses 265 films, shown on BBC1, BBC2, ITV, C4 and C5, which depicted 1251 incidents involving firearms, 918 violent assaults and 409 incidents involving a range of offensive weapons other than firearms.

The Report, which is compiled from what monitors actually saw on screen, says that it is difficult to appreciate in a written Report the violent fantasy world portrayed by film makers, who seem to have an inexplicable desire to concentrate on cruelty, destruction, killing and maiming in their "works of art".

165 (62%) of the films were identified as "previously shown" which exemplifies an obstinate disregard by broadcasters of the public concern about violent entertainment. The Association is critical of the pre-screen announcements, or "warnings", which precede some films suggesting that they convey little of the true nature of what is likely to follow and, in many cases, serve to attract viewers. Concern is expressed about vulnerable parts of the body, like heads, throats and genital areas, being shown as targets for violent attack.

Of the 265 films 51 were referred by the public to the Broadcasting Standards Council/Commission on various grounds. Only 6 had complaints upheld with 2 upheld in part. Despite documented concern about violence on TV the BSC continues to deliver findings on violent material that are inconsistent and do little to inspire public confidence.

Following the shooting in Arkansas recently, in which four children and a teacher were killed, the Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckerby, said he was in no doubt that society must share some of the blame for the killings: "Whether it's in the television programmes they watch, the movies they see, the language they use, the things they are exposed to, and the glorification of those things, I think we have to be angry at the very culture that helps to breed this kind of response in an 11 year old child".

The Report calls for greater public accountability for the British Board of Film Classification, better defined Codes of Practice for Broadcasting and a strengthening of the Obscene Publications Act.



This Report, 'More Cruelty and Violence 4', compiled from accounts of what monitors actually saw on screen, is intended to be a further contribution to the debate about violence on television and, hopefully, will lead to a significant and meaningful reduction of violence in the nation's entertainment.

It is difficult to appreciate, in a written report of this kind, the full impact of the hate filled and fear filled fantasy world portrayed by the film makers who seem to have an inexplicable desire to concentrate on cruelty, destruction, killing, maiming and all manner of brutal behaviour, sexual aggression and criminal activity in their 'works of art'. That the Broadcasting Authorities continue to purchase, promote and screen such material, on the grounds that they simply reflect reality, is equally difficult to appreciate.

The former Chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, Lady Howe, when launching the Report 'Regulating for Changing Values' , 7/5/97, said:

"This study provides a striking picture of Britain today. A public that respects tolerance but wants to protect its own values. A media that is perceived to have increasing influence but which some think may have its own agenda. A society where people have a right to privacy but may forfeit that right.

"What struck me above all was the anxiety expressed about the cultural effects of television and the world view it was thought to present. A view that undermined authority and fostered unsociable behaviour. Although people do not hold television responsible for anti-social acts of violence, it is no surprise that many fear that encouraging unsociable behaviour will lead to anti-social behaviour."

The growing problem of social violence and other unsociable behaviour is well known and documented. The latest atrocity to shake the world is the shooting incident in Arkansas, USA, in March 1998, where four children and a teacher were shot dead and others wounded in an ambush. Two boys, dressed in camouflage, aged 11 and 13 years old, have been arrested and charged with the murders.

That the Film Industry and the Broadcasting Authorities do little to curtail the portrayal of violent and anti-social behaviour strongly supports the suspicion, expressed by those interviewed by the BSC, that the media does have its own agenda.


1. In view of the continuing growth of violent crime, and other anti-social behaviour, the depiction of violence in films, videos and on television, should, for the common good, be significantly reduced;

2. The Broadcasting Authorities should reject films, from Hollywood and elsewhere, that depict violence, especially those which portray the use of firearms or other easily accessible offensive weapons;

3. The portrayal of non-violent solutions to problems be given far greater prominence;

4. The regulatory authorities must put in place better defined guidance on violence, and other matters of taste and decency, in order to effect a reduction in violent imagery;

5. The working of and standards applied by the British Board of Film Classification be independently reviewed and revised thoroughly in line with public and Parliamentary concern; The BBFC itself should be subject to regular public scrutiny through, for example, the Parliamentary Committee System;

6. The Obscene Publications Act 1959/1964 be effectively amended to broaden the definition of "obscene" in order to fulfil Parliament's original intention to "strengthen the law concerning pornography.


Writing in the UNESCO newsletter 'News on Children and Violence on the Screen',

Vol 1, No 3, 1997, Professor George Gerbner, of Temple University, Philadelphia, said,

"What drives violence, then, is not popularity. It is global marketing. Concentration of ownership denies access to new entries and to alternative perspectives. Having fewer buyers for their products forces the remaining "content providers" deeper into deficit financing. As a consequence, most television and movie producers cannot break even on the domestic market. They are forced into video and foreign sales to make a profit. Therefore, they need a dramatic ingredient that requires no translation, "speaks action" in any language, and fits any culture. That ingredient is violence.

"Our analysis shows that violence dominates U.S. exports. We compared 250 U.S. programs exported to 10 countries with 111 programs shown in the U.S. during the same year. Violence was the main theme of 40% of home-shown and 49% of exported programs. Crime/action series comprised 17% of home-shown and 46% of exported programs.

"Formula-driven media violence is not an expression of freedom, popularity, or crime statistics. It is a de facto censorship that chills originality and extends the dynamics of domination, intimidation, and repression domestically and globally. The media violence overkill is an ingredient in a global marketing formula imposed on media professionals and foisted on the children of the world.

"There is a liberating alternative. It exists in various forms in all democratic countries. It is an independent citizen voice in cultural policy-making. More freedom from inequitable and intimidating marketing formulas, and a greater diversity of sources of support, are the effective and acceptable ways to increase diversity of content. That is also the democratic way to reduce media violence to its valid role and reasonable proportions".

The Annual Report of the British Board of Film Classification, published in December 1997, included an article entitled 'The Conscience of Hollywood'. This perceptive article, which does not include the name of its author, begins:

"The BBFC wondered if Hollywood would ever 'wake up with a conscience' about teenagers and the drip-drip effect of films which teach violence, glorify it and celebrate the rewards it brings". Violence, the Report says "has also become far more pervasive, since it occurs in a much larger proportion of films, particularly those targeted at a young audience.

"Conflict" it says "is at the heart of drama and screen violence can be exciting, even cathartic. It can be a moral struggle, like the battles between good and evil in children's fairy tales. But it can also frighten and disturb some children, or encourage others to misbehave. Handled irresponsibly, screen violence can teach violent techniques, encourage aggressive attitudes, or reinforce aggressive behaviour....

"The Board's analytical approach to films and videos demands considerable understanding of how films influence their audience ... Academic researchers analysed both the pleasures of violent entertainment and the dangers. They surveyed the prevalence of screen violence country by country. America has the highest crime rates in the developed world and produces the most violent entertainment. The most popular stars are the macho heroes who use violence successfully and therefore demonstrate and validate its use".

Describing how the Board deals with sexual violence the Report says, about video,

"Exploitative rapes were present in eleven low budget productions, and gang rapes in nine. Stripping and forcible exposure of breasts preceded many of the rapes, while torture, mutilation and murder succeeded them. In a single year, we have seen naked women humiliated, beaten, blackmailed into sexual submission, suffocated in plastic bags, stabbed, slashed across the breasts and crotch with razors and knives, having guns forced into their mouths and vaginas, and all for the evident pleasure of men on the screen and in the audience."

The BBFC Annual Report is available from: The BBFC, 3 Soho Square, London, W1V 6HD, price £6.00.

In 1995, the Home Office commissioned a study of the effects of video violence on young offenders. The study was undertaken by Dr Kevin Browne and Amanda Pennell of Birmingham University. The research investigated whether there were differences in the ways in which violent young offenders and non-violent offenders and non-offenders viewed violent videos. It did not set out to prove whether there was a causal link between video violence and criminal behaviour.

After months of leaks and speculation the report concluded that violent offenders are more likely to be adversely influenced by viewing violence than non-violent offenders and non-offenders.

Two of the key points of the report were: "Offenders had a lower level of moral development than non-offenders ... and were more likely to have aggressive temperaments and distorted perceptions about violence", and, "The findings suggest that individuals from violent families are more prone to offending behaviour and having a preference for violent films, but this may be modified by personality and moral values."

In interviews Dr Browne said that the "home environment" is a key factor in understanding what may influence people to be violent. Children and young people whose home environment is violent are more likely to be violent and aggressive in later life.

The Report 'The Effects of Video Violence on Young Offenders is available from: Information & Publications Group, Room 201, Home Office, Queen Anne's Gate, London, SW1H 9AT.

In January 1998 the Independent Television Commission issued a revised Programme Code. This set out again the statutory requirements on good taste and decency as well as the rules to be observed with respect to the showing of violence.

The Code states in section 1.6:

"The real world contains violence in many forms. Television has a duty to reflect this - in news, drama and other programmes. On the other hand, the portrayal of violence, whether physical, verbal or psychological, is an area of public concern:

(a) At the simplest level, some portrayed acts of violence may go beyond the bounds of what is tolerable for the average viewer. These could be classified as material which, in the words of the Broadcasting Act, 'offends against good taste or decency' or 'is likely to be offensive to public feeling'.

(b) There is portrayed violence which is potentially so disturbing that it might be psychologically harmful, particularly for young or emotionally insecure viewers.

(c) Violence portrayed on television may be imitated in real life.

(d) The regular and recurrent spectacle of violence might lead viewers to think violence in one form or another is acceptable behaviour and may encourage indifference to the suffering of the victims of violence.

1.6(i) The portrayal of violence in programmes

All concerned in the planning, production and scheduling of television programmes must keep in mind the following considerations:

The content of the programme schedules as a whole

(a) Violence which is acceptable in one programme may become intolerable over a period. Licensees should therefore avoid an undue concentration in the schedule of programmes containing violence.

(b) The time of screening of each programme is important. The ITC policy of 'family viewing time' entails special concern for younger viewers.

The ends and means

(c) There is no evidence that the portrayal of violence for good or 'legitimate' ends is likely to be less harmful to the individual, or to society, than the portrayal of violence for evil ends.

(f) Dramatic truth may occasionally demand the portrayal of a sadistic character, but there can be no defence of violence shown or heard solely for its own sake, or of the gratuitous presentation of sadistic or other perverted practices.

(g) Ingenious and unfamiliar methods of inflicting pain or injury, which are capable of easy imitation, should not be included.

The ITC Programme Code, which deals with all aspects of programme regulation, is available from the ITC, 33 Foley Street, London, W1P 7LB.


In 1994 this Association analysed 111 films screened on the four terrestrial television channels. Two reports, 'A CULTURE OF CRUELTY AND VIOLENCE', and, 'MORE CRUELTY AND VIOLENCE', were published in November 1994 and June 1995 respectively. Our analysis of these films detailed 523 incidents involving firearms, 492 violent assaults and 81 incidents involving knives of various kinds and other offensive weapons.

In 1995 this Association analysed 200 films screened on the four terrestrial television channels. The Report 'MORE CRUELTY AND VIOLENCE 2' was published in August 1996. Our analysis of these films detailed 835 incidents involving firearms, 689 violent assaults and 232 incidents involving knives of various kinds and other offensive weapons.

In 1996 this Association analysed 246 films screened on the four terrestrial television channels. The Report 'MORE CRUELTY AND VIOLENCE 3' was published in March 1997. Our analysis of these films detailed 1076 incidents involving firearms, 706 violent assaults and 376 incidents involving knives of various kinds and other offensive weapons.


In this Report, 'MORE CRUELTY AND VIOLENCE 4', a total of 265 films shown on BBC1, BBC2, ITV, C4 and C5 are analysed. The Report is not exhaustive and the findings relate only to the films monitored.

264 of the films analysed in this Report were scheduled to begin at or after 9.00pm. The film which began earlier than 9.00pm was 'FEDS' screened on 1.1.97 at 5.35pm on ITV. 11 of the 265 films were shown twice during the year.

Of the 265 films 51 have been the subject of public complaints sent to the Broadcasting Standards Council/Commission, one of which, 'A KISS BEFORE DYING', has been UPHELD twice. Complaints about various aspects of only 6 of these films 'VIDEODROME', 'THE BABY OF MACON', 'HARD TARGET', 'MIAMI BLUES', 'NATURAL BORN KILLERS' and 'A KISS BEFORE DYING' were UPHELD. 2 films had complaints UPHELD IN PART, 'SCARFACE' and 'SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAAD ASSSSS SONG'.

62 films were identified as "Premieres".

There is a discernible trend, identified in earlier reports, towards later scheduling of films which has continued except on C5. Of the 165 films identified as "previously shown" 103 were shown later than the previous screening.

84 of the films were shown on BBC1. Of these 4 films, 'LEGAL EAGLES', 'THE MECHANIC', 'UNDER SIEGE' and 'NEXT OF KIN' were shown twice on BBC1 and one film, 'THE HARD WAY' was shown on BBC1 and ITV. 16 films were identified as "Premieres" and 56 were identified as "previously shown". Of these 47 were scheduled later than when previously shown, 6 shown earlier and 2 at the same time. Complaints about the extreme violence in the film 'A KISS BEFORE DYING', previously shown on 17.9.94 and 4.3.96, were UPHELD twice by the Broadcasting Standards Council (Bulletins 48 and 64) but despite this the film was repeated on 19.11.97 although scheduled later.

28 of the films were shown on BBC2. 14 films were identified as "Premieres" and 9 were identified as "previously shown". Of these 7 were scheduled later and 2 were scheduled earlier than when previously shown.

79 of the films were shown on ITV. Of these 3 films, 'LETHAL WEAPON 3', 'A.W.O.L.' and 'THE KILLING TIME' (Westcountry TV) were shown twice. 12 films were shown in certain regions only. 10 films were identified as "Premieres" and 49 identified as "previously shown". Of these 27 were scheduled later and 12 scheduled earlier than when previously shown. 10 were scheduled at the same time.

60 of the films were shown on C4. 1 film 'SHALLOW GRAVE' was shown twice. 21 films were identified as "Premieres" and 27 were identified as "previously shown". Of these 15 were scheduled later and 4 scheduled earlier than when previously shown.

8 were scheduled at the same time.

25 of the films were shown on C5. 1 film, 'NATURAL BORN KILLERS' was identified as a 'Premiere' and 24 films were identified as "previously shown". All "previously shown" films had been shown on other channels. Of these 6 were scheduled later than when previously shown and 17 scheduled earlier. 1 film was scheduled at the same time. 1 film 'CADILLAC MAN' was shown twice.

In the 265 films analysed, including those shown twice, monitors identified:

a) 1281 incidents involving firearms: (450 on BBC1, 124 on BBC2, 421 on ITV, 193 on C4, 93 on C5)

b) 918 violent assaults: (300 on BBC1, 79 on BBC2, 283 on ITV, 188 on C4, 68 on C5)

c) 107 incidents of fire raising or causing explosions: (36 on BBC1, 4 on BBC2, 41 on ITV, 22 on C4, 4 on C5)

d) 409 incidents involving knives of various kinds and other offensive weapons: (140 on BBC1, 24 on BBC2, 132 on ITV, 94 on C4, 19 on C5)

e) 74 incidents involving illegal drugs:

(14 on BBC1, 15 on BBC2, 18 on ITV, 25 on C4, 2 on C5)

N.B. The Finding (a) above concurs with the Sheffield University study published in August 1995 that the most common form of violence is shooting. We also note that a

further study by Sheffield University published in December 1996 showed that the main source of violence on television was cinema films which accounted for 54% of all violent acts. American films accounted for about 80% of the violence shown.


Revolver, machine pistol, machine gun, rifle, silenced automatic, pump action shotgun, sawn-off shotgun, double-barrelled shotgun, spear gun.


Flick knives, snooker/pool cue, scalpel, plank of wood, bottle, iron/steel bar/rod, shovel/spade, short/curved sword, spear, axe, hard ball in sock, tyre lever, baseball bat, poker, carving knife, hunting knife, razor, Stanley knife, Panga knife, spear gun, truncheon, dart gun, scissors, tyre brace, meat cleaver, letter opener, steel hammer, chain, knuckle duster, carving fork, bayonet, chain saw, harpoon gun, crossbow.


Murder, grievous bodily harm, rape, assault, abduction, robbery with violence, robbery, burglary, vehicle theft.


According to Producers' Guidelines published by the BBC in November 1996 the mere existence of the "widely understood" 'watershed', which is something the broadcasters themselves invented, is said to be sufficient "signposting" in most cases to indicate to viewers programmes which may cause offence. The presence of obscene language, brutal violence or explicit sexual conduct requires additional information only when it "might be offensive to significant numbers of viewers or listeners".

The Broadcasting Standards Council, in its Code of Practice (2nd Edition), describes the 'watershed' as "the moment at which" broadcasters "indicate" that programmes "could contain material which, in treatment or content, may become less suitable for children to view". The Code describes as "more demanding" the kind of drama which will be transmitted after the 'watershed'.

The Independent Television Commission, in its Programme Code, revised January 1998, requires, in Section 1.3 Warnings, that, "clear and specific warnings (or 'labelling', where relevant including the provision of BBFC or other certification) should be employed where there is a likelihood that some viewers may find the programme disturbing". The Code goes on "This does not diminish the broadcaster's responsibility for sensitive scheduling of programmes to reduce a risk of offence to the minimum."

Some of the films were prefaced by warnings or other pre-screen announcements. Examination of these announcements indicates little consistency in their application and the rationale for prefacing some films and not others is obscure. The BBC Producers' Guidelines suggest that "signposts or warnings should be clear and factual". Viewers are warned most frequently of "strong" language. Phrases such as "hard hitting" or "gritty action" or "tough mood" or "disturbing", detailed in this Report, lack definition and seem contrived to convey very little of the true nature of what follows. The practice of warning viewers about the content of some films has continued in line with policy decisions taken by the Broadcasting Authorities following discussions in November 1996 with the then Secretary of State for Heritage, The Rt Hon Virginia Bottomley MP.

However, warnings seem to be little more than cover for themselves in the event of political intervention or public criticism.

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