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Sunday, 5 August, 2001, 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK
Brass Eye: Should the government intervene?
Channel 4 is coming under increasing pressure from the government over the broadcast last week of a spoof investigation into paedophilia.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
The Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, is particularly concerned that the station repeated the episode of Brass Eye even though it had received hundreds of complaints.
She is also contacting the Independent Television Commission (ITC) to discuss whether the watchdog needs new powers to react more quickly to this sort of controversial show.
Yet many people have stepped in to defend the satirical programme. Ben Summerskill, a journalist from the Observer, said: "Channel 4 ought to be free to show programmes that offend - people are free to use their off switch."
Should it be the government's job to intervene? Did the programme exceed the levels of decency? What did you think of Brass Eye?
Euan Fergusson, UK
Moral outrage from the tabloids.... now that's ironic!
I switched off within the first couple of minutes, which is what all the other whingers should have done instead of sitting there waiting to be offended!
As the mother of a young child I found this programme very distasteful. It just proves that television is heading to the gutter. I was very surprised that he also has young children. What next - "snuff" films?
So what if you watched it, and were offended. I don't care. I do care if a minority of narrow minded individuals start imposing their view of what can and cannot be broadcast late at night on the rest of us.
There is only one reason for censorship: incitement of violence, and even that is probably invalid in most, if not all, cases. That something should be censored because it is offensive is ridiculous. On that basis satire would not exist, and if it did not we would be deprived one of the most valuable means of dissent that any society can have.
As others have written here, the most vocal critics of this programme were the newspaper editors who helped to incite violence, often on innocent people, ultimately by publishing the names and addresses of convicted sex offenders. How can they encourage, in their morally and legally corrupt position, the censorship of the media?
Some people seem to spend their lives complaining, be it about what's on TV or whatever. It seems to be some sort of psychological illness; there's always something to complain about because life's not fair, because that's nature. Meanwhile life will pass you by. These people's ideals seem so far away from the ideals of peace and love. Maybe we are more intelligent than other animals but we really need to grow up a bit and realise what life is all about.
I think the government has far more important things to do than censoring art, unless the art instigates social unrest.
Come on, at least the TV actually wasn't boring for half an hour! And I missed it!
As someone living in the US who watches only BBC America because the programming is far superior, I am amused by the US responses to this question who cite the "free" American television. Like so many things in the US, the television programs are ruled by consumerism. The programs have become filler between commercials. British programming may offend some, but it is original and entertaining. As for censorship, there is always the on/off and channel switch.
Living in NZ, I obviously did not see this programme, but I have seen many other episodes of Brass Eye in the past and value its input into TV society. What strikes me as bizarre are the many protestations from the massed phalanxes of "Mr Outraged from Chigwell" that they all love satire, but this programme was just sick.
Well, wake up, ladies and gents - satire isn't just Spitting Image presenting the never-funny portrayal of Thatcher as an ogre and Reagan as a moron; true, biting satire goes to the bone and provokes thought more than gratuitous belly laughs.
And if you don't like it, turn it off and read or book. Or would that require too much effort?
"Fortunately I did not see the Brass Eye special on paedophilia the other night but I am sickened by any programme which can glorify this subject. How can anyone show images like I have read about and call this entertainment -Jonathan Drysdale, UK" You don't seem to get the point at all, you DIDN'T see the program yet feel strongly enough about the images that you didn't see to comment on what they might have been? How much exposure has this program given to the issue of child abuse. People are out there abusing young children and we have nothing better to do than argue about whether peoples senses of morality have been affected. Don't shoot the messenger!
In no way did this show glorify or promote child abuse, it showed abusers being killed by angry mobs ripping them limb from limb. That sounds like fun!
As for the group of people who never even saw the show and feel qualified to take a moral stance on it, have they nothing better to do than read the autocues thrust in front of them? Touché Brass Eye.
Okay so of the seventy-odd comments I've read here, more than sixty at least agree with free speech. Of the six that object to the programme, two haven't even seen it! So who exactly are a supposedly liberal government and media representing by condemning free speech, both with Brass Eye and Farrakhan?
I would like to add my support to Chris Morris and Brass Eye whose astute and highly funny radio and television programmes consistently hit the mark. It must be so frustrating for Morris' critics to realize that as they open their mouths, they become the very caricatures of moral outrage he so effectively lambastes. Tessa Jowell and David Blunkett are only making themselves look foolish.
Personally, I find Big Brother far more offensive. Can we not get the government to legislate against TV time being wasted on such vacuous, pointless programming that only serves to promote fame-hungry, thought-free "celebrities"? At least Brass Eye tried to create a debate slightly more relevant than whether two halfwit wannabes would have sex or not.
It's just a TV programme for heaven's sake. Should the Government intervene? What a stupid reaction. And what about free speech - go around removing things that some people find offensive and there will be nothing left in the world. If you don't like it then just don't watch it - it's not a difficult solution, now is it?
It is heartening to see the level of intelligence present on these pages in contrast to the ill-reasoned and over-emotional arguments presented in opposition to the programme. I hope that Ms Jowell takes time out of her busy schedule of prejudicing ITC enquiries and trying to curb our freedom of speech to acquaint herself with the reactions of people who have seen the programme and given more than a second's thought to the issues raised.
And by the way Kevin, I am not a "conceited yuppie"(whatever that may mean in the year 2001) but a "normal" working class man from a small town in Suffolk.
Having read the comments so far, what a relief that the British are finally waking up to the hypocrisy and nonsense spoken by our so-called moral guardians at the Daily Mail and its like. Considering the generally constructive response from the public and the hysterical slamming from the tabloids, it highlights how out of touch the press and politicians really are.
Like Princess Diana and drugs, this is another subject that you're not allowed to offer any reasoned debate on without being put in the stocks. And any program that upsets the Daily Mail that much must be doing something right.
The bland/blind ignorance of the response from the powers that be to this programme is depressing. I didn't find it particularly funny, nor should it have been. But thought-provoking it was, and the stock responses versus the media self-justification turns this whole affair into an all too easily dismissible "trendy media" v. "uptight parents" event.
It would seem from the above comments that those with negative views didn't watch the show. How anybody can make an informed comment without seeing it beggars belief. Their thoughts are the kind of uninformed views that the News of the World and the Mail feed off. How the News of the World can one week be informing us of some minor celeb's sexual preferences one week and then taking the moral high ground the next is beyond explanation.
It's really amusing to read all the anti-censorship posts from fellow Americans who don't seem to have figured that most of their TV is very carefully censored by "Corporate America" who effectively dictate what goes on TV by their advertising budgets. Name me one hard hitting close to the bone TV satire in the US that gets anywhere near where Brass Eye got in the UK last week.
Perhaps I'm just too cynical, but I wish I could believe that the tabloid backlash against Brass Eye is genuinely due to ignorance. Given that most of the indignant clamour is coming from the very media that Christopher Morris was satirizing in the program, could it not be that the newspaper editors are using their well-practiced skills at whipping up mob opinion to silence someone they see as a dangerous critic? If so, I find that very frightening.
The media's hypocrisy on the subject is incredible. The tabloids frequently print pictures of teenage film and music stars alongside lewd or suggestive headlines, yet this week, they were side by side with the articles attacking Chris Morris!
The Daily Mail's reaction to this media hyped circus could not have worked out better for Chris Morris had he written the articles for them. The Mail sought to be a moral guardian speaking "for the people" whilst gaining a few more readers in the process (mostly those who didn't see Brass Eye). The Mail took the bait and ended up looking pathetic, duped just as Phil Collins et al before it. Therein lies the genius of Mr. Morris, light-years ahead of any other comedy performer in the UK today.
As someone who has actually worked on TV news programmes both local and national I have not taken news programmes seriously for years. Brass Eye has always been a brilliant programme and yet again has shown up the hypocrisy of media. The over reaction of London-centric news editors trying to raise their viewing and sales figures and beat their rivals to the story was shown for exactly what it is biased and based solely on holding on to their jobs by boosting sales figures. Minor celebrities and MP's who long for as much media coverage as they can get were all caught out yet again.
The tabloid newspapers disgorge a menu of nudity, rumour and false accusation every day yet millions still buy them, these "shocked" millions who all know the bust measurements of every bimbo on "Big Brother" know absolutely nothing about Britain, the world or international events are being paraded as an "authority" on what should or should not be on TV. I assume they do at least know where the off button is on their remote controls? Channel 4 and Brass Eye should be very pleased with themselves they have proved exactly the point they were making. The Government must keep out of regulating the media our "freedom of speech" is the most important freedom we have. I don't want the original "Big Brother" telling me what I am capable of watching or not their job is not censorship.
And yes I did watch the programme.
Brass Eye heightens our awareness of the exploitation techniques employed by the media by (slightly) exaggerating them, in order that we recognise these methods for what they are when we observe the "real" media. A lesson that will sadly be lost on News of the World readers.
The media would seem to be creating yet more raw material for Chris Morris to exploit.
I saw most of Brasseye - I missed the start - and I think those who want it banned are completely missing the point. Yes it made me laugh - the lampooning of the press's paranoia at the power of computers, the idiot celebrities too obsessed with their own self publicity to even examine what they were reading out, but like all good satire it also made me feel uncomfortable. Satire is like 'proper' dark chocolate, not sweet and bland, but bitter and with real depth.
Michael Thomas, UK
One can only hope Mr Morris is currently running around in disguise getting daft celebs and bandwagon hungry politicos to lambast Brass Eye for a later show.
I found this 'Brass Eye' special a witty and well observed satire, which, like previous 'Brass Eye' programmes, was sometimes compelling, sometimes uncomfortable to watch. But I feel the outrage caused by this programme will mean that Chris Morris and co. will find it difficult to get any more material onto mainstream television.
Chris Morris has a unique talent; to show us commoners how naïve, hypocritical or simply stupid some of our masters in the realms of media and celebrity are. The media (especially the printed variety) enjoys a wonderful position of being able to treat us like idiots, telling us how we should believe, behave and vote, and gets barrels of money for the privilege. There should be no government intervention in the media, but when some of their base tactics to sell copy are exposed for all to see, this should be a cause for celebration.
I've no doubt a lot of politicians will be hoping to use this to sneak through some powers of censorship. So I'm delighted to see so many posts from people who found the programme offensive but support free speech. We're not so daft as our rulers like to think!
The best thing about all this controversy is that Channel 4 seem to be returning to their roots. That is making and showing challenging (and sometimes offensive) programmes that make people talk, argue and complain. This is good because it brings the issues to the front and makes people confront them. There is far too much mindless programming around, take Big Brother or Survivor for instance...
Well done Channel 4, I for one am very pleased.
I haven't spoken to any of my colleagues, friends or family that aren't disgusted by this. They started to watch it and, like me, turned it off. I reject the arrogant and condescending statements from Channel 4 executives that imply that we don't get the plot. Oh we get the plot alright and we don't want it. As simple as that. Some people are so stupid and gullible, frightened of being found to be out of synch, that they'll laugh at anything these days if it's meant to be cutting edge and pushing the boundaries. This is sick sarcasm - as base as that and no conceited yuppie is going to tell me otherwise.
The media furore which followed the airing of this programme only served to confirm everything Chris Morris was satirising - the worst aspects of sensationalist journalism, the mindless "commentating" from politicians and celebrities who were clearly as clueless about paedophilia as they were about satirical comment. Most abused children are attacked by people they know, people their families love and trust. Brass Eye did us all a great service in ridiculing public figures who will spout any nonsense, no matter how serious the subject, to get 30 seconds on TV. For these professional opinion-spouters, their concern is 10% for our children's welfare, 90% getting a smart sound-bite on the evening news.
I don't think this intervention has any sinister overtones, but would attribute it to the concern of a politician who cares passionately about her remit and the public good.
However as a relative newcomer to front bench politics TJ has to learn how to hold back the passion when in front of the microphone and as a parliamentarian take these issues to Parliament before taking them to the press.
I think you will find most of the complaints will come from people who don't find the programme amusing.
They don't have to watch it. As adults, they are responsible for their own behaviour patterns. Including watching television.
They are certainly also responsible for their children's watching habits too.
I personally find some tabloids highly offensive. But I understand that others find them amusing and so I let them buy them and have a bit of fun.
Let's see a bit more grown up behaviour on this one too.
The government intervening in TV programming is the first step towards a police state and a dictatorship and the suppression of peoples' rights and liberties. In a free country, TV channels should be able to broadcast anything and everything, no matter how offensive or gory or indecent without meddling from the government. I may not like everything I see on TV, but I have the freedom to watch graphic programming or change the channel.
It's Chris Morris' job to make satire of important issues, that's what he does and he absolutely needs to be allowed to do it. The press constantly tell us of their need to be able to report things and express opinions without the intervention of government, i.e. The News of the World regarding their offensive, distasteful and exploitive coverage of the Sarah Payne story. Yet they are exactly the same people asking for Brass Eye to be banned! Chris Morris has a better idea of what is wrong with this country than anyone in government, let alone the so-called culture secretary. If she really based her opinion on those of the tabloids instead of watching the programme first, then she should resign for being a complete idiot.
For those who complained against the programme, c'mon folks: it was after the watershed, it was Channel 4, and Brass Eye's reputation precedes it. Anyone accepting to be a guest on "Have I Got News for You" knows they will be lampooned. Anyone watching a Chris Morris show knows that the presentation will be near the bone. Nobody told you to watch, and the show was not misrepresented in the listings!
So why do the tabloids now rail against it? Considering the lewd content of most of these rags, they are hardly in a position to preach!
To close, a quote from Swift, usually accepted as one of the English language's greatest satirists:
"Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own."
I don't like Chris Morris very much, and I personally find his programmes usually too uncomfortable to watch, but I am quietly celebrating the fact that the British tabloid media (and its all-too-loyal following) is finally being forced to face up to the sheer stupidity and sheer hypocrisy of its sensationalist coverage of paedophilia. A nice, well-balanced debate chaired by Mariella Frostrup might have been more tasteful, but would it provoke this amount of debate about an extremely important issue? Thought not.
Does Atkinson's Blackadder satire on life in the 1st world war trenches demean the people that actually had to live through it? Quite the reverse. Humour is an important mechanism for survival, as many who have had to live through appalling circumstance will testify. When previously taboo subjects are satirised in mainstream "entertainment" then real progress is being made in looking at issues beyond the blindingly obvious.
For politicians to pontificate on prime news programmes without even having the courtesy to have watched the programme they claim to be so offended by is, as John Humpreys said, absurd!
As one who did watch the programme I cottoned on to the obvious point the programme was trying to make. Yes it is a horrible subject but that doesn't stop the tabloids exploiting it for all they are worth to the detriment of society and that is what the programme was trying to say.
The Government must step in to ensure that people too stupid to change channels are protected from this sort of humour.
All hail Government censorship!
For all those who thought this was a "Great bit of TV" try considering the real victims behind all this. Would you find it a joke if you, a friend or family member had suffered in this manner? I think not. Even though the whole idea was to get at the media a more serious documentary would have been more appropriate. Tessa Jowell is listening to what the MAJORITY of this country felt when they saw Brass Eye.
If the intention was to ridicule the media, maybe it should have been done with a less sensitive issue, but would that get the viewing figures or the media publicity?
Not that I saw the show, but in general, government is not to interfere with the media, period. Media boards are meant to regulate themselves with the help of independent monitors. And in this case, we are talking about a channel that has time and again proved that it is able to make informed and responsible choices to the enlightenment of its viewers, however controversial the subject might be.
The media does not like Chris Morris and Chris Morris does not like the media.
Channel 4 took a big risk in airing this show and they should be supported for it.
Freedom of speech is the first priority! Once government gets involved there is no limit to censorship. The fact that some people abuse the free speech right is no reason to get the government involved. The fact that the US has free speech as its first amendment to the Constitution is no accident. Freedom of the press will survive if government is not allowed to change the rules. It's up to the people to decide whether TV programs are suitable to be watched by them and their families.
Wake up Brits before its too late!
I can only second the defences of the programme set out so eloquently below. One thing I would add is this: there were 800-odd complaints against this programme set against viewing figures of maybe 100,000. Why should such a relatively small number of complainants constitute a catalyst for government intervention? As ever, the vocal minority will exert influence well beyond their proportion. If 10,000 complaints had been received, they would still have been in a stark minority.
I personally found the programme not half as funny as the old one which followed it, partly due to the subject at hand, and partly because I feel some of it was in pretty poor taste.
However, even if I'd utterly hated the show, I'd still see no reason for it to be banned. It's quite clearly not encouraging any kind of harmful behaviour, and if anyone found it too offensive for them, the "off" button is usually quite prominently marked on most TVs.
It's amazing how many commentaries I've read about this include the phrase "I didn't actually watch the programme myself"... Are these the rounded opinions of a rational debate? I think the reaction to the programme is exactly what Chris Morris & co were satirising and totally hammers home the point of the show (as if that were necessary). The sort of satire which makes the Government want to ban something is always worth watching!
Whatever happened to freedom of speech? Are we really now back to the days of Lady Chatterley's Lover?
If Tessa Jowell looked carefully, she would see that her gross over-reaction indicated just how razor-sharp Chris Morris's satire against media sensationalism has been.
Since people who have never seen the show are allowed to complain about how bad Brass Eye is, I'd like to say how good it is. I haven't seen the show in question, but I can well believe that it is in as bad taste as everyone is making out.
However, the world will be a better place if, after all the fuss about the program
dies down, people feel that it is easier to have an open discussion about
society's treatment of important issues.
At the moment, it seems as though there is a taboo over
issues like race-equality and paedophilia. People are afraid
of allowing public debate about what is right and wrong,
in case the outcome should challenge our current beliefs.
Having spent most of my day in the office reading about this story on various news and discussion sites, it has become evident that a majority of people have expressed an informed opinion that the show has a right to present us with a depiction of our country that challenges us, whether or not they feel that it makes good television. Programmes such as Brass Eye make us continually re-evaluate our perceptions and understanding of society, thus preventing such an apathetic responses to issues of national importance as was demonstrated in the electoral turn out earlier this year.
Yes, there are people who strongly object to the program (whether they have seen it or not) and who feel it should be banned, and I wouldn't want to quash their right to free speech by banning articles and programmes that express this opinion. The majority of moral outrage has come from the national press, who see an opportunity to boost their circulation, thus wholly enforcing the point of Chris Morris et al, and the politicians, who fall over themselves to be associated with fighting this evil scourge that The News Of The World would claim will tear asunder the very fabric of our great nation.
Jonathan Drysdale, UK
Ms Jowell would do better to direct her energies towards sorting out the monumental mess that is the Millennium Dome rather than pursuing Channel 4. At least the public have a choice as to whether they watch Brass Eye or not - Londoners have no choice as regards "New" Labour's multi-million pound eyesore on the horizon...
I didn't see the programme in question, but have to say that I'm rather shocked. I consider myself open-minded, but find it strange that the defence for the show's airing was that it challenges the media's/ society's perception of contentious issues. Surely Channel 4 has fallen into the same trap as those it is trying to expose, by profiting from a shock factor? I disagree, however, that the public need to be protected from shows like Brass Eye. The authorities should credit viewers with enough intelligence to decide for themselves what is within the realms of decency, according to their personal tastes. Would they ban documentaries on the BNP? I doubt it.
I'd rather ban Tessa Jowell
Typical. The Government will pursue a TV
programme with all its vigour, but when it
actually comes to targeting paedophiles
and locking them up suddenly they don't
seem so concerned. No doubt we'll shortly
hear how a paedophile is getting legal aid
so that they can sue the programme over the
distress it caused them.
Roger Bainbridge, Scotland
The prospect of government intervention really worries me. We voted in a government so that it would protect our interests which means that we need one with enough intellectual rigour to be able to separate satire from reality. It seems to me that one woman being offended at something should not allow her to dictate what everyone else can or cannot see. I for one don't need protecting from satire.
I rather like the way that the papers that are condemning the programme now are the same ones that, last year, praised mothers for teaching their children songs about hanging and killing, and published names of "alleged" paedophiles - which rather proves the point of the programme.
After all these years you'd think that people would have learned how to either change channels or switch the TV off! Before I spent time and money banning these kind of programmes, I'd seriously think about instituting college courses on how to operate a TV.
The only reservation I had about the programme was the use of children. Some of the scenes, especially with the paedophile in the dock, could, and should, have been filmed such that the child was not present for the spoken words. Apart from that I expect all the right people have been offended. I am sure others will make the point that it was on late at night and, as always, the off button could have been used. I agree with them.
I found some of the programme funny, some of it disturbing. But I didn't miss the point that the satire wasn't aimed at paedophilia in general, but at the media circus that feeds off this disgusting crime. Its a pity that many people can't see that satire can have a serious purpose other than raising laughs.
Victor Houghton, UK
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I personally found the show to be unamusing and in poor taste. Not because of the attempts to satirise the media, rather because it undermines the work that genuine children's charities such as the NSPCC and Childline are attempting to do.
The real pressure against this programme is coming from the 'celebrities' who have been shown up for being unintelligent, self-publicists who are completely out of touch with the modern world. How could anyone really believe that a special set of gloves would allow someone to 'feel up' a user through their monitor?
I actually think this is one my favourite programs on TV. It is offbeat, satirical, judgmental, opinionated, in extremely bad taste, but most of all FUNNY. Anyone with half a brain can surely see the humour in the pseudo-news items.
All the hoo-hah from the government and other groups just goes to show that Chris Morris was right about the media's fascination with and sensationalising of paedophilia. What politicians are really upset about is that so many of them were shown to be so stupid by Morris in the making of many of his shows.
Satire is not light comedy. It has a hard social purpose. It is interesting that an attempt is on to use this to in tighten surreptitious censorship.
Conall O'Connor, Ireland
Should the government intervene?
Not without watching the programme themselves first rather than making judgements based on second hand reports in tabloid newspapers.
I couldn't believe the front page of the Daily Mail - "the sickest show on TV" they cried. Yet it is that kind of sensationalism that Brass Eye constantly highlights. I say well done to Chris Morris for exposing the media to what they do worst!
It truly astounds and saddens me when I read about the frenzied backlash created by the media, for the media, in response to the evidently highly contentious episode of Brass Eye.
It was EXACTLY this kind of moralistic, one-sided response that was being so expertly lampooned in the programme.
Craig Davies, Great Britain
Unfortunately, given the 'normal distribution' of characteristics like intelligence, there will always be a majority of not so bright people who miss the point. It's just a shame when our politicians pander to the lowest common denominator.
People are missing the point. The programme was not about paedophilia. It was about the way in which the media covers such topics. Everything should be questioned! That is why we need programmes like this.
How is it possible to make light of something as serious as paedophilia? I thought the program was insensitive and did not deserve a slot on national television. There are claims that the program was produced to challenge the way in which the media sensationalises paedophilia. What is next? Racism? Cannibalism? Drug abuse? Their motivation is twisted and I don't believe that people so out of touch with reality should be working for a television company. They lost the plot from the start.
Ms Jowell should quietly backdown. The Government did nothing to condemn the tabloids for the name and shame campaign last year, but will consider doing something now to a show that highlighted the hate that such reporting can stir up. Honestly! Is it compulsory for Ministers to make themselves look foolish at the earliest possible time after taking up their duties?
So, hours and hours of puerile toilet humour and cheap 'reality' TV is totally acceptable, but god forbid we should watch any program with a satirical point to make about current affairs and controversial issues? I was not in the least bit offended by the program, and applaud Channel Four's decision to show it.
I personally found the Brass Eye Special to be one of the funniest and most relevant satirical shows to be broadcast in recent years. It is surely the role of satirists to point out the knee-jerk reactions of both the press and, more to the point the government, when they are likely to lead to mob rule and persecution of the innocent.
Who has the right to determine what people laugh at?
I thought the Channel 4 spoof documentary was hilarious, how dare politicians and do-gooders dictate to us what in their view is or is not appropriate for humour!
If they did their jobs properly in the first place, then this wouldn't be as much an issue as it is in our society today!
30 Jul 01 | TV and Radio
Channel 4 satire row escalates
29 Jul 01 | TV and Radio
Paedophile spoof 'counterproductive'
28 Jul 01 | TV and Radio
Channel 4 defends 'sick' satire
27 Jul 01 | UK
Chris Morris: Brass Neck
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