LONDON (2003-09-05) When British
police flew to Greece last week to help investigate a brawl that
left one young British vacationer dead, they had an idea who one of
the culprits might be: British television.
Sex scenes and
vulgarity increase on British television
| Special to the Christian Science Monitor
called Club Reps that aired last year had focused on the alcoholic
and sexual excesses of a Mediterranean vacation. Police
Superintendent Andy Rhodes says it was a magnet for teenagers to
head south and behave badly.
"I would apportion quite a lot
of blame to Club Reps," Mr. Rhodes told reporters from the Greek
resort of Faliraki. "People like watching it, but there's a lot of
young people here who have been influenced by it."
is hardly unique on Britain's airwaves.
violence, and vulgar language have become regular ingredients of the
dramas, documentaries, and reality TV staples that make up the
British TV diet. Scenes that would have provoked a furor 15 years
ago now rarely cause a fuss.
According to a report released
last month, 1 in 5 programs broadcast on one of the five terrestrial
channels last year depicted some form of sexual activity, most of
them mild. Scenes depicting sexual intercourse more than doubled -
rising to 14 percent from 6 percent in 1997.
"People are more
accepting nowadays of nudity on television," says Robin Hull of the
Broadcasting Standards Commission, a watchdog that monitors British
television and radio to ensure that taste and decency guidelines are
"People want to be told if something is coming up
that they may not be comfortable with," he adds, "but clearly this
report shows there is more sex and nudity on TV."
flick through the TV program guides of recent months shows that
viewers with more salacious tastes could take their pick from an
array of titles - ranging from the documentary (Real Sex, Sex on TV,
G String Divas) to dramas like Tipping the Velvet, Babyfather, and
Bodily Harm. America's Sex and the City is a late-night regular.
Shows like Eurotrash and Temptation Island speak for
Live reality TV shows are under pressure to
titillate. The first series of Survivor in Britain was dominated by
suggestions of an illicit beach tryst between two scantily clad
contestants, while the latest Big Brother installment was crudely
hyped to generate maximum frisson.
"The industry is in
turmoil at the moment because of the economic downturn, and so the
pressure to come up with the next Big Brother or Survivor is always
on," notes Andrew Sparke, managing director of Iskra TV, an
independent television distribution company. "If that means you have
to go one step further down the trashy road, then more and more will
do so, even though there are plenty of producers who can't stand
what is going on at the moment."
More viewers mean better
ratings, the key to success.
For the government-funded BBC,
more viewers means a stronger justification for charging viewers the
$190 annual license fee which helps fund it; for independent
television (ITV), better ratings mean the ability to charge
advertisers more for slots.
"ITV has to make a lot of money
to compete with the BBC," notes John Milton Whatmore, chairman of
MediawatchUK, a body campaigning for better standards of decency in
the British media.
"So ITV makes programs that are either
sensational or the wrong side of the line to get the short-term
viewers that make the advertisers come in," says Mr.
There are still standards of decency that cannot be
breached. And the BSC closely polices a taste "watershed" which
stipulates that content of an "adult" nature must be shown after 9
p.m. Particularly shocking television should also carry a rider,
warning viewers of what is about to be screened.
refreshing thing is that the watershed is being respected," says
Hull. "There was a time when it almost became a waterfall, but our
research shows the broadcasters are tending not to transgress the
Yet complaints still pour in about British TV. So far
this year there have been more than 1,000 objections to indecency on
independent television alone.
Supporters of cleaner
programming argue that the regulatory framework is weak, and say it
is unfair to charge people to watch TVand then tell them to turn off
if they object to what is being shown.
"We are concerned that
the media industry seems to be self-regulatory," says Whatmore.
"It's like the police doing investigations into their own
He says that the standards set on television
affect the communal psyche of a country, and that this is the basis
for MediawatchUK's insistence on better standards.
show images that are questionable on television many times over,
some of that is bound to rub off on society," he argues. "If you
show sex on television as being just jumping into bed and being
self-indulgent, then the norms of what is acceptable slowly starts
© Copyright 2003, Christian Science