TV Violence in Britain Faces Code of 'Decency'

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HAVING turned television into high art through such programs as Masterpiece Theater, Britain has also made progress in scrubbing its airwaves of scenes depicting violence. But not enough to satisfy critics and government officials seeking new ways to stem TV mayhem. And it could be that the Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers have met their match in the British Cabinet minister who oversees broadcasting, Virginia Bottomley. She is likely by early next year to insist on "taste and decency" standards for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and British commercial channels, according to her officials. A recent survey found programs showing "an intention to harm or to intimidate" characters portrayed on TV - many of the shows imported from America - have been cut nearly in half over nearly the past decade. Researchers at Sheffield University near Manchester found that violence on Britain's four terrestrial TV channels had fallen from 1.1 percent of all content nine years ago to 0.62 percent today, based on analysis of 4,715 hours of programs over six months. Despite the progress, points out Cabinet minister Bottomley, 37 percent of programs still contain some violence, with 19 percent of it in children's shows. In the programs containing violence, the report says, there were 21,000 separate violent acts depicted in 10,000 sequences. Violent scenes were twice as common on satellite channels than on terrestrial channels. Satellite TV is steadily becoming more popular in Britain as media magnate Rupert Murdoch succeeds in persuading more and more homes to install receiving dishes for his British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) programs. Violence on British TV is hotly debated by broadcasters and citizens' groups. They frequently find themselves at odds over how much violence there is on television and what effect it has on viewers - particularly the very young. Two years ago the issue received huge attention when it was revealed that two children who had beaten to death a toddler and left his body on a railway track had been watching a video showing similar scenes only a short time earlier. While Bottomley is expected to go on the offensive against violence on the BBC and Britain's terrestrial channels, it is less clear how she is going to persuade BSkyB to cut back on violence in its transmissions. The company is headquartered outside Britain and is not subject to British broadcasting legislation. "The government takes very seriously public concern about the portrayal of violence on our TV screens," Bottomley said last month. "Broadcasting is a powerful medium with potential to do great good, but we must be vigilant against its negative influence." The Sheffield research - the most detailed survey in recent years - was commissioned jointly by the BBC and the Independent Television Commission, which regulates terrestrial commercial TV channels. …