The Wrong Message!
By John C Beyer Director of mediawatch-uk
t the beginning of June Channel 4 TV, which claims a public service remit, launched its "Summer Season" of programming. This included such undignified spectacles as a return visit to an American brothel, the 'sexploits' of three couples who engage in 'swinging', a repeat showing of a series about pornographic film making and another repeat about people who engage in sex with animals! In addition to this sleazy and disgusting material Channel 4's summer evenings have been dominated by Big Brother, which has included rioting and other yobbish behaviour. And, if you think this is bad, a cable channel is planning a big brother-style show whose 'housemates' will be five women "porn stars" joined by five eager men. We are promised "the real thing" in this series!
While all this, and more, has been going on the Office of Communications, the new TV and Radio regulator, published a lengthy consultation paper on the new Broadcasting Code it is required to draw up under the Communications Act 2003. Reports suggested that further relaxation of the regulations on programme content is in prospect. The proposed new Code rightly places emphasis on protecting minors from unsuitable material. However, the rest of us will have to educate ourselves so that we can avoid harmful or offensive programmes by taking note of warnings and advanced information. A scheme of classification is also being suggested. Ofcom will require broadcasters to do much more to label programmes and sanctions will be imposed if scheduling is regarded as inappropriate or labelling judged to be inadequate. The new regulator makes it clear that "freedom of expression" for broadcasters is their overriding concern. Regrettably there is little emphasis on their responsibilities or on the freedom of viewers and listeners not to be confronted in their own homes by bad taste and indecency, or offended by obscene or profane language, violence or explicit sexual conduct.
In a recent meeting with Ofcom to discuss the Code, John Beyer, Director of mediawatch-uk, said he believed the Code should be the primary factor in securing high standards. He said: "By being well defined and, above all, well known to the viewing public, the Code should provide a firm basis by which programmes can be judged by everyone. We believe that such a Code must be an integral part of the overall strategy to develop media literacy among the public. Whilst we accept the need to consult widely we also expect leadership from the regulator and the state of our society, to which broadcasting contributes, should be a factor taken into account. We also believe that greater weight should be attached to the concerns of the public and much more should be done to invite comment and public involvement in media standards.
n conclusion Mr Beyer said: "By placing the onus on viewers and listeners to avoid harmful or offensive programmes the wrong message is being sent to broadcasters. It is evident from recent programming that some broadcasters, aided by advertisers and sponsors, are continuing the process of overthrowing all constraints."
Speaking to Evangelicals Now, Mr Beyer said: "Unless we all resolve to make our voices heard through public consultations like this, and through other channels available, we cannot grumble if television does not fulfil the public expectation that broadcasting should a force for good."
This article first appeared in September 2004 issue of Evangelicals Now. Visit: www.e-n.org.uk
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