MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Knee-jerk reaction is no way to police the media industry

Never again will the sight of an S&M madame lovingly scrubbing the

testicles of a client with a cheese grater hold the same magnetism for

me than when I first saw it on a Channel 4 fetish night.



Over the years Channel 4 has successfully denuded many such previously

taboo subjects of their shock-value. And the channel has been aided in

its mission by the enormous amounts of free publicity it has received

from other media that consider it their duty to highlight the evils of

Channel 4's programming.



So the furore over the Brass Eye special on the media's treatment of

paedophilia is certainly not unexpected, and nor is the army of

complaints it has sparked. In fact, even before the programme was

screened last Thursday there was plenty of pre-publicity from outraged

newspapers, guaranteeing the show a higher audience than it might

otherwise expect.



Your views on the programme itself (and if you didn't see it, I don't

believe you're qualified to comment) will inevitably be very personal

ones and, given the emotive nature of the subject matter, probably very

strong ones.



I don't want to get into a debate about the content (I confess I

switched off before the end because, despite generally being a firm

supporter of all that's tasteless and indecent, I found it too

uncomfortable to watch), but I do think the Government's appallingly ill

thought-out reaction deserves an airing.



First of all Beverley Hughes, the minister for child protection, slammed

the show without even seeing it. Then the home secretary, David

Blunkett, waded in with a more measured but probably no better informed

"dismayed" response and, finally, the culture secretary, Tessa Jowell,

rounded on the Independent Television Commission for failing to react

swiftly to complaints.



By the middle of this week, the Government seemed to have woken up to

its gross mishandling of the situation and was fervently insisting that

it was not trying to censor British broadcasting. Jowell has insisted

that the Government's prime concern is simply to ensure that all

programmes meet the ITC's code and do not contravene public interest.

Yet the knee-jerk ministerial outcry has put real pressure on the ITC to

respond in a certain way, even though the ITC's very real strength as a

regulatory body is its careful, considered and inclusive approach, which

necessarily takes time and meticulous attention to detail.



The Government has already proved itself incredibly adept at bandwagon

jumping, spotting a PR opportunity in the most unlikely subject

matters.



It has also proved itself at times too much the nanny, deciding what is

for our "own good" and legislating for it. It would be monstrous if

these two tendencies were allowed to influence what is broadcast on UK

television.