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Tuesday, 24 April, 2001, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Campaigners urge TV turn-off
TV: Harmful intruder of useful educational tool?
TV: Could you live without it for a week?
By BBC News Online's Ian Youngs

"You are boring," says the White Dot website. "The people you know are stupid. Thank God you have television to bring glamour and entertainment into your life!"

White Dot is an organisation whose dogged attack against the evils of the ubiquitous small screen has come to a climax.

They have proclaimed this week as TV Turn-Off Week - and are appealing to would-be viewers to switch off their sets and get a life.


It's an interesting exercise - but I don't know that I would like to do it myself

Professor Kevin Warwick
Reading University
They say you should get out more, see your friends, join a club or do something creative.

But more than that, they say you should organise a local meeting, form a TV turn-off committee and lobby teachers and religious leaders to promote the event.

They are serious - but how many people will take them seriously remains to be seen.

The debate about television's effects - good or bad - has raged for years, with its bearing on violence, childrens' education, language and democracy researched and argued over.

Studies have also claimed to prove links between TV and everything from childrens' fear of hospitals to overeating in Fiji.

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Friends: Shows can make viewers think about issues
But now the TV set has become a fixture in almost every living room in the land, White Dot's campaign is the first concerted effort to make viewers switch off.

"I decided a long time ago that life is too short," said White Dot campaigner and philosopher Roger Scruton.

"I've had the opportunity to observe TV's effect on my neighbours, friends and especially children and have come to the conclusion that on the whole, the effect is negative.

He says that while there are things that amuse and inform viewers, a mind informed about the world through television is "more or less rubbish" compared with one enriched by the world of literature.

White Dot campaigners cite extensive research to back up their argument - but the case is by no means clear cut.

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A study has just been published saying environmental conditions, including television, have helped increase the average IQ of Britons by 27% since 1942.

And last year, researchers at Reading University found that television was a better way for students to absorb information than reading.

"Our visual senses are by far the most powerful," according to Professor Kevin Warwick, who carried out the research.

Healthy

"TV seems to have been given a bad reputation by some people but our results certainly show that it can considerably increase exam performance.

"One thing we showed was that reading can send things the other way. If you're cramming for an exam it will only make it worse. Maybe it's easier to put information into your brain visually."


If enough people protest then things will change

John Beyer
Mediawatch
Professor Warwick said a week's break from the small screen could be healthy - but it would depend what people were doing instead.

"If they're reading newspapers instead then maybe there's some input - but how much will their brain actually take in?

"Even shows like Friends take issues and raise them. They have a lot of fun doing it, but they raise issues that people think about afterwards."

'Interesting'

And even if people did like the idea of a week's break from TV, they may not be able to ignore the lure of the box in the corner of the room, Professor Warwick says.

"I think it's an interesting academic exercise - but I don't know that I would like to do it myself at all.

"That would mean I'd have to miss Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. No way."

Laurence Marcus, who runs the website TV Heaven, says he could live without TV for a week - but only if he had to.

"There is a lot of very good quality television out there," he says. "But sometimes it's difficult to find it amongst all the makeover shows and cookery show.

He disagrees with White Dot's assumption that viewers do not do enough other activities.

Perspective

"Back in the sixties, television didn't have to vie with things like Playstation games. These days it has to - it has to grab an audience straight away because there are so many other things that you can go and do. So I don't think people do watch too much television."

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John Beyer, director of Mediawatch, which was set up by Mary Whitehouse as the National Viewers and Listeners' Association, says we cannot live without TV, but we must keep its use in perspective.

"We need to adopt a balanced approach. People should be more selective about what they view.

"I do sympathise with no-TV weeks because there is no other way of demonstrating that the public is unhappy with some of the content. If enough people protest then things will change."

He cites wildlife programmes, sporting events and parliamentary proceedings as examples of how TV can give viewers access to things they may not normally see.

"There's clearly an inherent value of programmes of that sort.

"But we should not just sit there with it on all the time without any thought or discussion about the things that are showing."

But it might not be that easy. One mother got in touch with BBC News Online from America - where TV Turn-Off Week is also running.

"I'm trying to get my two children to unplug the tube for a week," she said. "But after only one day, there's already fierce opposition."

TV Turn-Off Week runs from 23-29 April.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Roger Scruton and Professor Peter Atkins
"There are some for whom TV is a broadening experience"
See also:

14 Aug 00 | Education
TV 'helps pupils pass exams'
02 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
TV 'ignores' ethnic minorities
06 Mar 01 | Health
TV 'link' to Alzheimer's
23 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Violence is 'TV turn-off'
15 Jun 00 | Europe
Western literacy levels 'too low'
28 Feb 00 | Entertainment
Charities say UK TV neglects world issues
05 Aug 99 | Education
Child experts urge toddler TV ban
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