Sex,lies and the on-off switch

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 January, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 January, 1994, 12:00am

SO TVB have been ''reprimanded'' by the Broadcasting Authority for showing Sex and the Animal Kingdom.

No doubt they feel suitably chastened and chastised.

It is a pity somebody complained. If anything at all, the incident demonstrated that this sort of mechanism is not needed. Nobody is going to repeat a programme after it has been greeted with a rousing public rhubarb from viewers.

No doubt the complainers are comforting themselves with the thought that television stations will be more careful in future. But this is not very practical.

The problem is that programmes are often bought in bulk and frequently without being seen.

I very much doubt, for example, that TVB knew what they were letting themselves in for when they put in a bid for the Mao biography complete with peasant girls warming the ageing leader's bed.

The trouble with complaining is that it encourages the Broadcasting Authority to interfere. Of course the programme violated the code of practice for broadcasting standards.

The code of practice is so vaguely drafted that it is difficult to think of a programme which is safe.

Programmes are supposed to observe ''good taste and common sense''. Who decides what is good and what is common? Why can't we do it ourselves? We all have an on-off switch.

My encounter with Sex and the Animal Kingdom lasted about two minutes. I missed the sex.

By the time I arrived they had reached the fighting stage. No actual combat was taking place when I tuned in, but the commentary promised that fur would soon be flying.

I switched off because I spotted, in the background, a wall. The action was taking place in an enclosure.

This was outrageous. The point of wildlife movies is that they are shot in the wild. If we are shown two lions fighting in the middle of the Serengeti we know three things: The first is that the performance has not been staged for our benefit. If something disgusting happens, that is because lions do it naturally.

The second is that the film has scientific value for someone, because it tells us something about lions' behaviour.

The third is that the film represents a triumph of skill and patience because the photographer probably spent three weeks disguised as a bush with a telephoto lens before he got it.

I F the two animals have just been shoved into a cage together then none of these things is true. We are just being offered hi-tech bear-baiting.

I do not think there is a market for this. Even at 9.50 pm, and I think TVB would have discovered this without being prompted.

I do wish, though, they would be a bit more careful about what goes out earlier. Nature programmes seem to be much more gory than they were.

When I was very small I regularly watched a series called Zoo Quest, made by a couple called Armand and Michaela Dennis.

Although this was in ungraphic black-and-white, there were certain things we were not shown. A lion would be seen in hot pursuit of a zebra, and then we would cut to a replete Leo surrounded by a few fragments of carpet and some bones.

I suppose I must have realised that the zebra came to a sticky end in the middle of this, but we were not expected to watch it.

Modern viewers see the lot. This is acceptable for adults, who can enjoy, vomit or change channels according to taste. It brings problems for people watching with their children.

It is difficult to keep up acceptable standards of parental honesty if the true answers to the questions you are being asked go something like this: ''The antelope is kicking and struggling because the lion is chewing its head off. In a few moments the lion's wife will pull the antelope's intestines out.

''Scientists are still considering the question of what goes through the antelope's mind during this procedure but yes, it probably hurts.

''No the antelope is not acting. I think it is dead now. I hope it is dead now. I do not know whether antelopes go to Heaven. Would you like to watch a video?''




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