A V-chip off the old socialist block

5th April 1996 at 01:00
Tory MEP Roy Perry warns that protectionist policies are threatening children's TV.

The European Commission's TV Sans Frontieres directive has just been given a rough ride by Euro MPs. A majority, mainly drawn from left-wing parties and French MEPs of all political persuasions, has voted for a diet of regulation and control heavily spiced with political correctness.

In essence in a desire to protect "European" culture, whatever is meant by that, the Parliament has voted for a regime of broadcast quotas. They are saying that 51 per cent of all studio programmesfilms must be produced in Europe. This is apparently accepting a firmly-held French nostrum that we are raising a "Nintendo generation" to quote former French culture minister Jacques Toubon.

Consequently American and Australian products are to be rationed while European programmes, whether they are good or bad, are OK. At the same time, the Parliament has proposed a ban on any advertising that encourages children to urge their parents to buy something. They have also said that more violent and pornographic programmes may be shown so long as a censorship system of so-called "V-chips" is adopted.

All of this seems convincing at first sight, so what is wrong with it?

First, quotas: broadcasters such as the BBC and independent TV have no problems in meeting the quota levels. They know already British viewers like to watch British programmes and they well exceed the 51 per cent level. It is the new broadcasters on cable and satellite and especially the new broadcasters who could develop once digital TV gets under way who will be hit. New small companies are likely to be short of capital and in the early days may want to show cheap imported material, mainly American. The issue is do we want to make it easy for them to get off the ground or do we want to surround the industry with so many regulations that it will be tougher for new broadcasters to get going?

This is not so different from the argument we had in Britain in the 1950s when Independent Television started. We were told then that more meant worse. It was wrong then and wrong now. The education world stands to benefit from allowing specialist TV companies to come into being. Control and regulation is not the way to help, they need breathing space.

Second, I am worried that the block on advertising aimed at children will seriously limit their TV. One estimate is that across Europe more than Pounds 2 billion of advertising revenue will be lost. I supported a ban on adverts that directly exhort children to tell their parents to buy products, but the new rule could encompass advertising of products like lollipops and cereal. If we want programmes produced in Europe, to keep our children alert to their culture, we need to fund them.

The directive as now recommended by the Parliament opens the way to more violence and pornography because of over-reliance on the V-chip. In theory this allows the parents to set the level of violencesex their set will receive. I am not actually sure it works in a technical sense. I am sure that in many households the parents will need to ask their children for help. My viewing will be set by my kids who have set up the V-chip on the family set, but they will watch uncontrolled programmes on the old set in their bedroom.

The Socialist amendment said if we have a V-chip regime then we can allow more explicit material to be broadcast. Personally I prefer the present regime of family viewing time and time thresholds. Put simply, the directive as amended by the European socialists and their French allies hurts rather than helps children's viewing.

Roy Perry is Conservative MEP for Wight and South Hampshire

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