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Television Programmes (Scenes Of Brutality And Violence)

Volume 656: debated on Tuesday 27 March 1962

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asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware of the frequent broadcasting on television of scenes depicting brutality and violence during the hours when children are viewing; and if he will use his powers under Section 15 (4) of the Licence and Agreements and Section 9 (2) of the Television Act, 1954, to require the Corporation and the Authority to refrain from broadcasting scenes of this nature during the earlier viewing hours.

Both B.B.C. and I.T.A. assure me that their general policy is one of vigilance in programme matter, and that they pay particular attention to programmes broadcast at times when children might be expected to be watching.

The B.B.C.'s code of practice in regard to violence draws attention to the dangers of depicting brutality in children's programmes. The I.T.A. says that it always tries to exercise particular care about children's programmes. I do not think I should be justified in using my powers as the hon. Member suggests.

Does not the Minister agree that, even as recently as a week last Sunday, the broadcasting of a most brutal and bestial murder in the "Oliver Twist" series at five o'clock—the peak hour—can have had nothing but a damaging influence, and was it not an exaggeration of Dickens? Will he use his powers to try to prevent this sort of thing?

I take this matter very seriously, and I have been in consultation with the British Broadcasting Corporation about it. It is only fair that I should repeat what it told me, namely, that a warning about this scene was given in a trailer during that Sunday afternoon and also at the start of the programme itself. The Corporation points out that violence is part of the story itself, and that if some children—and, indeed, some adults—found the episode brutal, the Corporation is sorry. I saw this scene, and I thought that it was brutal and quite inexcusable.

I am rather glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman has taken exception to some of the things which have been televised, especially the last one to which he referred, but despite all that alleged vigilance on the part of the Corporation and the I.T.A., is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a great deal of anxiety and concern in the public mind with regard to the effect of these brutal plays and actions on children? It does not matter how much we try to pretend that children are not watching, or should not be watching, these things. The plain fact is that they are doing so and it is having a deleterious effect on them, as every school teacher and every public-minded person knows. The Postmaster-General cannot evade his personal responsibility in regard to the standard of these things in the B.B.C. and in the I.T.A.

I think that, generally speaking, both broadcasting authorities behave well in matters of this sort. There are, of course, exceptional cases, and this happens to be one. Quite frankly, the difficulty is that if anyone in my position starts to ban certain types of programme on either the B.B.C. or the I.T.A., starting with brutality, or hangings, or something of that sort, the next step will be a demand for the banning of other programmes on a great variety of grounds, and the content of television programmes would disappear in no time.

Who really advises on the time at which childen go to bed? One is sick and tired of hearing that programmes are all right because they come on late and children do not see them. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are in consultation with the Home Office on this matter, and is there not a relationship between juvenile crime and allowing children to see programmes before their minds are thoroughly stabilised?

In regard to the first part of that question, I think that it is generally assumed by the broadcasting authorities that most children go to bed at nine o'clock.

I cannot say whether that is true or not. I can speak only for my own children. But until nine o'clock the two broadcasting authorities certainly try to keep out disagreeable features such as this from their programmes—not only children's programmes, but all programmes. With regard to the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, this is one of the matters which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been discussing with the Chairmen of the I.T.A. and the B.B.C

But is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that both these authorities operate under a Charter given by this House? Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman, as a Member of this House, and as the person responsible to this House for these two authorities, take the feeling of this House? I feel sure that if he does he will find that there is great apprehension not only in regard to children, but adults, too, because of some of these most obnoxious programmes that are put on by both authorities.

I have no doubt that on both sides of the House there is a great deal of feeling on matters of this sort, and I hope that when the Pilkington Committee reports, as it will do shortly after Easter, it will have something to say, and in turn that the Government will take what it has to say with all seriousness.

In that context is my right hon. Friend aware of the programe "Z Cars" which puts the police in an extremely bad light? It brutalises the police and has a bad effect on children.

I am afraid that I am not in a position to answer that because I have never seen "Z Cars"

The right hon. Gentleman said that both authorities took into account the needs of children up to the hour of nine o'clock. They set up a joint committee which recommended that programmes up to nine o'clock should not be unsuitable for children, and both authorities firmly rejected the recommendations of this Committee. How does the right hon. Gentleman account for that?

I realise that that recommendation was rejected, but I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the two broadcasting authorities proceed on the assumption that most children may be watching television until about nine o'clock.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that, quite apart from the effect on children, what is involved here is a deliberate debasement of the public taste, and that this is a question of public policy for which he is responsible? Can the right hon. Gentleman conceive of any circumstance whatever in which it is necessary to depict on the screen every incident and every detail of a brutal assault ending in murder, and perhaps depicting an actual hanging? What is it for, except to pander to the most morbid sensationalism and to derive profit from it in that way?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that that is a very fair question. I have already made my personal view clear on this point.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that if this matter is taken too far along the line of the questions this afternoon we shall end in a state where no Shakespearean play can be shown at all? Would not he agree that one of the most successful series ever put over by the B.B.C. is "An Age of Kings" which had more murders in it last Sunday than I have ever seen before?

I am sure that the answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question is "Yes." One of the difficulties is that a very high proportion of our English classical literature includes incidents of great brutality.