BY PIERS MCGRANDLE
DAVID ALTON, THE Catholic and Liberal Democrat MP for Mossley Hill, Liverpool, has put down an amendment to the Broadcasting Bill in a bid to curb violence and gratuitous sex on television.
The campaigning MP, a long-time crusader against screen violence, claims to have cross-party support. "I think that this will put pressure on broadcasters to produce less violent programmes", he said this week.
His call followed the announcement by Mrs Virginia Bottomley, the National Heritage Secretary, that she was launching an investigation into proposals to fit all new television sets with electronic scramblers. These scramblers could block violent or sexually explicit programmes.
In the wake of the Dunblane massacre, calls have increased for Britain to follow the lead of the United States, where President Clinton last month ordered that all new television sets be fitted with chips from 1998.
The V-chip is a computer chip which picks up signals broadcast with each programme, carrying a classification.
Programmes might be classified on a scale of one to five, with one representing the safest programmes and five the most sexually explicit.
Parents would then be able to programme their television sets to block all shows classified above a certain level. Mr Alton described it as a "powerful weapon in parents' hands, giving them control over what comes into their homes".
However some pressure groups have dismissed the putative V-chip as a "complete cop-out", claiming that it will undermine the existing system of in-built controls.
Mrs Mary Whitehouse, founder of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, claims that it "will simply give broadcasters more licencethey will say 'the V-chip is there, so we can put out anything we like".
Jocelyn Hay, of the Voice of the Viewer and Listener group, said that politicians would be disappointed if they expected the V-chip to provide a panacea for society's ills. More educationabout the use of television was needed.
"Parents should watch television with their children and discuss with them what is suitable". Even leading broadcasters have remained cautious. The BBC's Will Wyatt said that there was a "danger that some broadcasters may use the 'protection' of the V-chip to transmit even stronger material".
Meanwhile a leading Christian pressure group has produced a new booklet on the malign effects pornography can have on society.
Authors Claire WilsonThomas, from the Christian Action on Research and Education and Nigel Williams, a director of Childnet International, published Laid Bare: a path through the pornography maze this week. The 98-page book is aimed at two groups of people; parents, teachers and youth workers and those struggling with their own addiction to pornography, or families facing the effects of pornography in the household.
The booklet examines the influences behind pornography in our society, and the authors describe what kinds of material are available and the effects they have.
The book also investigates the rising phenomenon of computer pornography on the Internet, and deals with the difficult "free speech" and "censorship" questions that pornography raises.