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World at One Monday, 30 July, 2001, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Programme causes predictable storm
Chris Morris and Doon MacKichan in Brass Eye
Brass Eye: parody of media frenzy results in media frenzy
Government ministers are in a considerable lather over a television programme that few of them appear to have seen.

One exception, this programme has learned, is the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell. Having seen Chris Morris's Brass Eye, she is expected to take the unusual step of contacting the Independent Television Commission (ITC) - and Channel 4, to raise her concerns.

However, three-and-half-days after the programme was first broadcast, the hapless Home Office minister Beverley Hughes, deputed to explain the complaints, still hadn't found time to view a tape.

Nor, she said, did she wish to do so.

The programme was very offensive

Mary Marsh

She could tell from the reports she had read that it was "unspeakably sick".

Yet the official anxiety so far seems strangely nebulous.

The very idea that a programme could be made, attempting to satirise the way society deals with child abuse - and dares to put the word paedophilia in the title - has caused a fierce reaction, in the Home Office at least.

What harm did it do?

Do the professionals agree about the damage that might have been done by the Channel 4 programme?

Mary Marsh, the Chief Executive of the NSPCC, told The World at One that it was offensive to trivialise the suffering of abused children by using it as comic material and that it was wrong to use child actors to make the programme itself.

Syd Rapson, Labour MP for Portsmouth North
Rapson: duped

Others have a more obvious reason to be upset - the celebrities who were made to look foolish by Chris Morris. The victims this time included the Tomorrow's World presenter Philippa Forrester and Gary Lineker.

Another of those persuaded to take part in the programme was Syd Rapson, the Labour MP for Portsmouth North, who last year defended the right of his constituents on the Paulsgrove Estate to demonstrate against sex offenders living in the area.

He told The World at One that he had been duped into warning on the programme of a pair of trousers worn by paedophiles which were supposed to inflate to hide their arousal.

He said he was annoyed and embarrassed, particularly about the deception used to secure his participation in the programme.

I was completely taken in...I thought it was a video

Syd Rapson

With regard to the content of the programme, he said he did not believe in censorship of the media.

What can be done?

The embarrassment of MPs, of course, is - as Mr Rapson accepts - a side issue.

The Government will feel under much more pressure from organisations like the NSPCC, and yet will find itself - as so often in the past struggling to find ways of responding that do not invite charges of nannying, at best, and censorship at worst.

Tessa Jowell, at the department responsible, is insisting today that it is not her business to tell broadcasters what to do or not to do.

Her initial compromise solution is to say that she will talk to the ITC about whether IT feels that it has the powers it needs to respond quickly, flexibly and decisively in the face of severe audience unhappiness.

You do have to treat these issues fairly...and that means any rush to judgement is quite inappropriate

Lord Holme

But what scope for reform might there be? The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Holme, a former Deputy Chairman of the ITC, told The World at One he had reservations about the need for the government to pressurise the ITC to respond quickly to such complaints.

He said it would not have been possible to have prevented the repeat showing of the Brass Eye programme, coming as it did just 24 hours after the first showing, except by previewing all programmes - which amounted to unacceptable censorship.

Syd Rapson MP
"I was completely taken in"
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