Friday 14 January 2011

Education or titillation?

At the end of the last week we watched an advance preview of a programme which will be broadcast on Channel 4 next Wednesday, The Joy of Teen Sex.

This programme will be broadcast post watershed at 10pm and, according to Channel 4 ‘it offers a frank exploration of the love and sex lives of today's teenagers - presenting solutions to the emotional and physical problems many of them experience.’

The programme’s muddled message begins with the presenter pointing out that sex under the age of 16 is illegal.  She says “the age of consent is there for a reason and I believe we should wait until we are at least 16 to lose our virginity but we can’t pretend that teenage sex isn’t happening” and then goes to explain that we should ‘embrace teenage sex’ and make it ‘enjoyable’.

Perhaps this is the aim but, having seen the programme, we consider it crosses the line into prurience, with graphic scenes that can only be described as pornographic and of very little educational value.  Our concern is  that this programme has more to do with titillation and ratings than offering advice of real value; it doesn’t have to be this way as the BBC’s ‘Dangerous Pleasures’ season, which is aimed at young people and has tackled subjects including drugs, alcohol and sex intelligently, has shown.

The programme includes explicit images of lesbian intercourse in a section in which a 17 year old is shown ‘some more tricks to pleasure girls’.  The presenter expresses her concern about the pressure applied to teenagers to have sex; however this is exactly what the programme is doing.

At a time when, as a society, we’re having a serious debate about the premature sexualisation of children, there is a real question about the role which programmes like this take in the creation of the hypersexualised society which our children inhabit.

The last word must belong to the editorial from the Sunday Express.  Writing about this programme the paper says:

A researcher for Mediawatch, who has seen the material, says: “It’s soft porn aimed at arousing the audience.” She is right. Sex education is a serious issue but is C4 interested in helping shy teenagers come to terms with sex or is it just after a cheap thrill to boost viewing figures?

The subject does not need graphic human illustration to make a serious point. By including them, the show will simply arouse those in search of a cheap thrill, the very opposite of the message that a programme like this should be making.’

Friday 7 January 2011

Soap Operas: Education or Entertainment?

The controversial EastEnders storyline in which a character is seen discovering her baby son dead in his crib and then swapping him for the newborn baby of another character has resulted in over 6,000 complaints to the BBC that the storyline is offensive and sensational.

To avoid accusations of sensationalism, EastEnders producers claim to have worked with the charity, the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths although the organisation’s website states: ‘Despite the continuing statement… by the BBC that "FSID were consulted on the storyline...", FSID had no involvement in the planning or adoption of the specific 'baby-swap' plotline.  The behaviour and actions of Ronnie Mitchell are in no way 'endorsed' by FSID as a typical, or even likely, reaction of a bereaved parent.’

Anne Diamond, who lost a son to cot death, said: ‘I was shocked to find cot death itself is no longer dramatic enough for today's screenwriter.  This… hasn't done one iota of good in educating a young audience about cot death.’  Website Mumsnet has also criticised the broadcast as ‘at best… ill-informed, and at worst ... a cynical ploy to make headlines by creating deliberate controversy’.

The BBC has sought to justify the episodes by pointing out that they broadcast an action line number for those affected by the programme.

Soap opera storylines are defended because they make people aware of issues, last year the Government was even reported to be working with soap opera producers on promoting health messages.  And yet for years broadcasters have been telling us that what they produce is entertainment and has no effect on those who consume it. 

They can’t have it both ways; are soap operas for entertainment or are they for education?

In the words of writer and broadcaster Bel Mooney ‘no one who writes scripts for mainstream TV can ever afford to forget that images have a greater power even than words, and that the combination can be deeply ­disturbing. They have to get it right.’