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
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
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
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