TV soaps more violent as Spooks death tops complaints

LONDON - TV soap operas are getting more violent with complaints almost doubling on last year, with a controversial episode from the BBC's spy drama 'Spooks' topping the list of complaints, according to the watchdog.

The Broadcasting Standards Commission said that concerns about violence and offensive language had grown from 8% and 11% of complaints last year to 15% for both this year.

The largest number of complaints the BSC received about a single programme this year related to a violent scene in the MI5 drama 'Spooks', which racked up 154 complaints.

The episode featured an operation to infiltrate a far right group, which goes wrong and two agents are captured. When the programme's star, Matthew MacFayden, refuses to offer up information, the character played by Lisa Faulkner is murdered.

It isn't just that she is killed that caused the complaints more than she first had her hand plunged into a deep fat fryer when MacFayden still refused to cooperate.

The extremists then start to push Faulkner's head into the deep fat fryer before the camera cuts away, making the violence more implied than actually shown.

It was only the second episode in the series and it had been expected that Faulkner's character was set to become a regular.

The programme, now in its second season, has continued to cause controversy, with an episode in the second season, which showed a Muslim radical training suicide bombers for attacks in Britain, generating nearly 1,000 complaints.

The BSC said that proportion of standards (ie harm and offence) complaints not upheld by the BSC has remained consistent -- 77% this year compared with 76% last year.

This year complaints about soaps in general increased, particularly the number of complaints the BSC received about 'EastEnders'.

Topping the list of complaints about 'EastEnders' were scenes in which Phil threatened Sonia and attacked Jamie attracting 31 complaints. 'Coronation Street' attracted 21 complaints for a scene in which Richard Hillman killed Maxine Peacock.

In its report, the BSC acknowledges that soaps are well known for tackling sensitive issues in a realistic manner, but said it was concerned about the increase of scenes featuring intense and protracted scenes of violence in domestic settings broadcast before the 9 o'clock watershed, given the large young audience they attract.

Paul Bolt, the director of the BSC, said: "Our continuing caseload and our research both show how much people still care about broadcast standards. The new regulator will need to take that concern on board in preparing its own approach to content regulation."

The report from the Broadcasting Standards Commission is its swan song before transferring its powers to Ofcom. The report reviews the BSC's main activities and highlights in considering complaints about broadcasting, preparing for its merger into Ofcom and researching media issues of concern to the public.

Launching the report, Lord Dubs, chairman of the BSC, said: "The BSC is proud of the legacy it will bequeath to Ofcom and the successes it has had during its six years of existence. We hope that Ofcom will, like the BSC, give effective and authoritative judgments backed by sound research of the current state of public opinion. We have stayed robustly independent of the industry, while working with it to meet viewers' and listeners' concerns."

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