Friday 28 September 2012

Drugs Live: experiment or advertisement?

This week Channel 4 devoted two hours of prime-time programming to the controversially titled ‘Drugs Live’.  A quick glance at the TV listings for the programme might have given the impression that it would feature a series of volunteers taking drugs live on air; the trailers which Channel 4 ran for the programme did not completely disabuse potential viewers of this notion either.

In fact the braodcast was a documentary and discussion which focussed on a clinical trial, which took place in July, was officially licensed by the Home Office and which will be submitted to a scientific journal.

However, watching subjects in a brain scanner does not make for riveting television which is an issue for a broadcaster covering a scientific trial in a slot more usually reserved for Shameless and the The Inbetweeners. 

When the programme was originally announced last year Channel 4’s Chief Creative Officer, Jay Hunt, described the programme as bringing ‘mischief’ back to the channel.  It has originally been hoped to show the drug-taking live although this was vetoed by the Home Office so the live element of the show was a studio discussion hosted by John Snow and Dr Christian Jenssen.

The subsequent programme had the feel of an election night broadcast complete with temperamental microphones and vox-pops.

Laudable though the aims of the clinical trial may have been it was very difficult for viewers to reach informed opinions on rather sophisticated science from watching such a disjointed programme.  Proper conclusions will only be reached after the results of the trial are published and peer-reviewed.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph Professor Les Iversen of Oxford University, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, questioned the scientific value of the broadcast:

“The dressing up of the Channel 4 project as ‘research’ is flimsy, and there is a danger that such programmes may glamorise drug-taking as a form of entertainment.”

He is quite right: scientific fact and voyeuristic entertainment make uneasy bedfellows.  It is to be hoped that the ultimate outcome of this TV first is a greater understanding for brain scientists rather than the damage of vulnerable viewers.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

The sexualisation of our society

This week has seen widespread condemnation of the publication of pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge topless.  Ironically The Sun, one of the first newspapers to condemn the publication of such intrusive photographs, runs a picture of a topless young woman every day and has done so since 1970.

There have been many campaign to have the page removed before; most notably by Claire Short in the 1980s who was branded ‘fat and jealous’ by the paper when her parliamentary bill failed.  However, concerns about press ethics have made this a hot issue once again.

Author and actor, Lucy-Anne Holmes, was enraged during the Olympics, when British women such as Jessica Ennis and Victoria Pendleton were successfully representing their country, that the biggest image of a female in the paper was the daily topless offering.

She wrote to the editor of The Sun and asked him to stop running topless pictures on page 3.  Predictably she didn’t receive a reply and so, on 5th September, she decided to set up a petition called ‘No More Page 3’ asking the paper’s editor to stop showing topless women in his paper. 

She promoted her petition through her social media accounts and it soon caught the public imagination and went viral.  At the time of writing, over 28,000 people have signed it and it has been mentioned in almost all the broadsheet newspapers although, predictably, not in The Sun. 

So much attention has this petition received that one of the UK’s leading bookmakers is now taking bets on when it will reach 100,000 signatures.  A spokesman for Paddy Power said: "The smart money says it will happen sometime in the next couple of months."

The Sun introduced a topless girl on page 3 in November 1970; it was the first time a British newspaper had run a nude photograph and, although controversial, it boosted circulation so from 1975 it became a daily feature. 

From our perspective in 2012, with hard-core pornography available to all at the click of a mouse, it can seem so innocent.  However ‘page 3’ lead the way and has contributed to the objectification and commodification of women and their bodies in our society.  It paved the way for much stronger images becoming mainstream in newspapers, magazines and on screen. 

As such it has impacted all of us whether or not we buy or read the paper.  Parents report that their children are being prematurely sexualised and forced to grow up too fast, cosmetic surgery rates have increased by nearly 20% in the last four years and an unrealistic body ideal is damaging our society by wreaking havoc with self esteem and affecting health and relationships.

We are delighted that this issue is once again in the news and we hope the petition continues to grow and shows that the picture of women presented by The Sun is unacceptable.  But let’s not just tinker around the edges; there is an even greater menace freely available to all.

It is to be hoped that all those who sign this petition also consider the effect that online pornography is having.  It’s effect on our society - not just those who use it but all of us – is potentially even more devastating. 

Monday 17 September 2012

Ofcom failing in its duty to protect children

Viewers of The X Factor, broadcast at 8pm on Saturday 8th September, were confronted with what was effectively a lap dance, during which a contestant straddled one of the judges dressed in just a bikini and a fishnet body stocking.

In our society stripping and other forms of sexual dancing are confined to the adult domain and children are not allowed to enter such establishments.  It is totally unacceptable to have similar material show on pre-watershed television, particularly in a programme which is promoted as family viewing.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident.  In the region of 3,000 people complained to Ofcom about semi-clothed dancers performing highly sexualised routines on the same programme back on 2010 and earlier this year Britain’s Got Talent featured a burlesque stripper.

In both cases Ofcom found neither broadcast breached their code which requires that children must be protected from material that is unsuitable for them.

Following this latest broadcast we have written to Ofcom in the strongest terms pointing out that their failure to regulate adequately in the past had led to what they describe as being ‘at the very margin of acceptability’ to become mainstream.

Parents surveyed at the time of the Bailey Review into the Sexualistion of Childhood felt that their children were being forced to grow up too quickly, with nearly half of them unhappy with pre-watershed TV.  Is it any wonder they feel let down when Ofcom is failing to protect their interests so spectacularly?

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Thank you for having your say

The government’s consultation into how best to protect children online closed on 6th September.  We don’t yet have accurate figures on how many people responded but we understand it to be in excess of two thousand.  If this is correct than it would appear that approximately one third of these responses came via our website site.

Thank you so much for using it to make your views known.  We are hopeful that the government will be left in no doubt as to the strength of public opinion on this issue.  We will, of course, keep you up to date with further news as we receive it.

If you or anyone you know is caring for children and would like help with online safety issues please do visit again.  The site remains active and we have updated it with sources of information which we hope will assist you in keeping your children protected.

Monday 3 September 2012

Last chance to have your say!

There is now under a week to go until the consultation into how best to protect children online ends.  

If you have not already made your views known you have until Thursday 6th September.

Claire Perry MP who has been key in making this consultation a reality has sent the following message:

The closing date for submissions to the UKCCIS consultation into Parental Internet Controls is drawing near and it is absolutely vital that everyone who is concerned about this issue to submit their own views so that the Government has a broad understanding of the underlying problems in this area. 

As someone who has shown an interest in the issue of Online Child Protection, I want to encourage you and other supporters, especially parents, to contribute to this consultation and give your opinions on how we can better protect children online.   More information on the consultation and how to respond can be found here.

The more submissions this exercise receives, the more Ministers will understand the serious concerns many people across the country feel about Online Child Safety and I hope you will participate in the consultation before the deadline.

Yours sincerely,
Claire Perry MP

If you have not yet responded to the consultation may I urge you to take the time to do so before Thursday’s deadline?  Our website,, is a one-stop-shop where you can finds facts about the issues, links to key resources and a response form with some handy hints all in the same place. 

Please don’t feel intimidated; you don’t need to answer any questions you don’t want to and, although the Government would welcome your comments, you need only tick boxes to indicate your preferences if you prefer which should take you no longer than five minutes.

If you have responded, thank you so much.  Please consider whether you could, in these last few days, get the news out to your friends and associates.   

This is a fantastic opportunity for us to let the government know how important these issues are to us and to push for real change.