UPDATE, FEB 2015: STEPHEN FRY SWEARS DURING BAFTASThe BBC stoutly defended Fry, and the principle of free speech, though said it 'noted' the concerns expressed for this post-watershed swearing. For some, the watershed isn't enough!Before you ask, the Mail was a tad cross at all this, shockingly enough (whilst squeezing in a load of large celebrity pics).
At one point, he told his audience it was “pissing down with stars”. He also introduced Tom Cruise as “Tom f**king Cruise” as he ambled on stage to present an award.
“We received complaints from viewers unhappy with some of Stephen Fry’s language while presenting the Baftas,” a statement on the BBC’s complaints website read.
Attitudes to strong language vary enormously and we considered very carefully how to reflect this.
“Stephen, whose irreverence and style is extremely well-known to viewers, has presented the Baftas for several years. Any strong language was used after the watershed, and there was a presentation announcement at the start of the programme warning viewers that the broadcast would contain language of this nature.
“We accept that some viewers disagreed with this approach, and this feedback has been noted.”
Both the BBC's film ratings and the TV (and radio) watershed face a problem which can be summed up in that one familiar word: digitisation. If young kids can effortlessly access TV or films at any time with any rating, can we really maintain the pretence of control? As more of us timeshift instead of following schedules, the concept gets even weaker.
There are other arguments against a watershed: why should adults, not least those without children, be restricted in their viewing?
The BBC have addressed and acknowledged some of these points, arguing that they provide valuable information so that those parents who choose to can make informed choices - though cinemas don't have any legal wriggle room to let parents/children decide.
Cinemas themselves will surely join any calls for deregulating film controls - they face fierce, intensifying competition from TV and mobile platforms, with TV advantaged by the ease of getting around age restrictions.
Read this article for a debate on the watershed between editors of prominent magazines, Robin Parker (Broadcast) and Boyd Hilton (Heat). Perhaps ironically, given Heat isn't exactly reknowned for classy, child-friendly material (but does attract young readers), it's Hilton who takes the pro-watershed line.
Below the line: an overview of how the Mail, Indie and others reported this story.
As I predicted (remember, this is one of Chomsky's arguments with the propaganda model - that once you accept the hegemonic role of the media you can predict their spin), the Mail was not happy with the DG:
Note the immediate positioning or spin: Hall confessed; he didn't state or say, he confessed!But now Lord Hall has confessed: ‘The watershed is still a useful way of judging the content and sensitivities, and taste and decency issues. But has the watershed got a future in 20 or 30 years’ time? I suspect not.’There has been mounting concern that the 9pm cut-off is being abolished by stealth, with explicit content increasingly aired earlier in the evening.In particular, series such as The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent have been criticised for screening raunchy early-evening performances by singers such as Jennifer Lopez and Rihanna.There are also worries about music videos that are available online and can be viewed by children of any age
eliding, and is common in examples of moral panics).
Moving to a right-wing broadsheet, the Daily Telegraph, perhaps reflecting its significantly older, post-parenthood, readership, was remarkably relaxed about this:
the Beeb's own report:
Ellen Jones acknowledges the digital challenge to the watershed, but presents a mix of smart digital arguments and familiar family values points (as well as linking this to programming standards) to argue in favour of retaining it, worth the lengthy quote below (my emphasis added):
Media futurologists have been predicting the imminent demise of the 9pm witching hour for some time and for obvious reasons. First introduced in 1964, under pressure from conservative campaigner Mary Whitehouse, the watershed is a relic of a time before catch up TV and YouTube. It was intended as a means to protect children from exposure to unsuitable material, while ensuring grown-ups could still get their kicks from sex scenes, swear words and drug references, provided they were willing to stay up late enough. Nowadays explicit content beyond Whitehouse’s most lurid imaginings is available online in seconds, so why [do] we still bother with a watershed?That I wouldn't have predicted from the liberal Indie! The column below wouldn't be out of place in the Mail but was actually a second piece in the Indie, expressing a highly conservative family values ideology. for this writer - indeed, for the reporter above too - the issue is quite simple: protection of children. Adults without children are deemed irrelevant, and the technological changes not good enough reason for change.
One reason is that the future of television hasn’t arrived as fast as predicted. According to Ofcom’s latest survey of media habits, Britons spend an average three hours and 52 minutes watching television every day and the vast majority of that time is still made up of live TV viewing. Moreover, some trends in digital TV watching, such as ‘double-screening’ (watching TV while simultaneously using another other device) lend themselves to live viewing. You can’t join in the Twitter conversation about your favourite show, unless you’re watching it at the scheduled time along with everyone else.
So before we consign the watershed to TV’s past (along with Teletext and coat-hanger aerials), let’s remember there are reasons [to] cherish it. Recent controversies concerning pre-watershed naughtiness have demonstrated that as content proliferates and cultural standards evolve, a nationally agreed barometer of taste is more useful than ever. The EastEnders 8pm rape storyline, for instance, was deemed acceptable by Ofcom in part because of “the programme’s role in presenting sometimes challenging or distressing social issues.” On the other hand the raunchy dance routines performed by Rihanna and Christina Aguilera on The X Factor however, were “at the limit” of acceptability for a pre-watershed broadcast.
It may be harder now to generalise about the viewing schedules of certain audiences, but the watershed — even if it only exists as an abstract notion — helps remind broadcasters that viewers still want them to make a variety of programming that’s suitable for different audiences and to to distinguish clearly between these programmes. If we wanted all television to resemble one long Rihanna video, we’d all be watching YouTube. A watershed may not be enough to save young minds from corruption, but it might just save us all from too much terrible telly.