Violence can take many forms and be present in all types of programming. In all cases, whether or not material is suitable for inclusion will depend largely upon the context in which it is shown.
Before the Watershed
- Before the watershed, scenes in programmes showing violence and its after-effects, including verbal descriptions of violence and sound effects, must be "appropriately limited".
- Any violence should also be justifiable by the context, based on the factors described above. For example, is it cartoon violence, or more realistic violence, that viewers may find more disturbing? Is the violence real, acted, or animated? Does it feel gratuitous? Is suffering shown and, if so, to what extent? Is the material being broadcast when large numbers of young children are likely to be watching?
- The inclusion of any scenes of violence that are "... easily imitable by children in a manner that is harmful or dangerous..." before the watershed is prohibited unless there is "editorial justification" and, in the case of children's programmes, must not be broadcast unless there is "strong editorial justification". Often such justification will be that the storyline makes it clear that the violent actions or behaviour that are included are unacceptable, or lead to a bad outcome with the perpetrators getting their just rewards.
- Similarly, in relation to "dangerous behaviour", any dangerous behaviour before the watershed which is "... easily imitable by children in a manner that is harmful ..." must not be included unless there is "editorial justification" and, again, in the case of children's programmes, unless there is "strong editorial justification". Often such justification will be that the storyline makes it clear just how dangerous the particular activity is and, therefore, is more likely to deter children from copying the acts, rather than encourage them. However, this may not always be enough and great care should be taken where the potentially dangerous behaviour involves readily accessible domestic items or appliances, for example knives, tools, kitchen appliances.
- For obvious reasons, scenes of violence, particularly of a severe nature, tend to be reserved until after the watershed. However, viewers are accustomed to and do not generally object to seeing mild violence in programmes before the watershed, if it is handled responsibly.
- Violence in many forms is regularly included in some of the most popular pre-watershed programmes for example arguments, fights, domestic violence, violent crime and murder all regularly feature in many popular pre-watershed soaps. However, images of actual physical violence in such programmes are invariably kept brief and non-graphic. Normally, it is the lead up to the violence and the resolution that is shown rather than the actual violent acts. Showing pain and suffering is generally avoided in pre-watershed programmes or is strictly limited, as this tends to distress viewers most. Understandably, blood and gore, especially in a violent context, is kept to a minimum before 9pm.
After the Watershed
- The inclusion of scenes of violence (real or simulated) should always be justifiable by the context, based on the factors outlined earlier in this chapter.
- Violence can take many forms with some having an increased potential to cause offence. For example, real violence in a documentary may shock or offend an audience more than the same act being portrayed in a fictional drama. Similarly, violence occurring in a setting that viewers are accustomed to and normally regard as safe, for example in the home, or at school, may increase its impact.
- Violent scenes, whether real or simulated, which focus on the pain and suffering of the victim, particularly if graphic and prolonged, are likely to be more distressing and potentially offensive than violent scenes that are more action-based. At the same time, a balance should normally be struck between showing the after effects of violence and not showing unduly distressing scenes of pain and suffering, as it may be irresponsible to depict some violent acts without showing the consequences i.e. the injury, damage or suffering.
- Scenes of violence where there is some disparity of power between the perpetrator and the victim or where the victim is vulnerable and unable to fight back or protect him/herself for some reason, for example male violence against women or children, or group violence against an individual, are likely to have a greater impact on audiences and potentially cause more offence and distress to viewers than violence between equals.
Verbal references to sexual violence e.g. in news or factual programming, both before and after the watershed are unlikely to be problematic if they are not explicit and are justified by context. Obviously, more explicit references will be permissible after the watershed.
The visual representation of sexual violence requires special care and only rarely will it be appropriate for inclusion in programmes before the watershed. Where it is, scenes and images should be appropriately limited and non-graphic.
Even well after the watershed, the subject of sexual violence requires very careful handling. What is included must be justified by the context with viewers being clearly forewarned about what they are about to see. Programmes should not appear to condone or excuse sexual violence.
Any programmes featuring or referring to sexual violence, particularly those scheduled to transmit before the watershed should be referred to the legal and compliance department as early as possible and, in the case of drama, before the scenes in question have been shot.
Suicide & Self-Harm
Depictions of and references to suicide and self-harm (verbal or visual) require careful thought and handling. Particular care must be taken if the method of committing suicide is shown. The Code states that "...methods of suicide and self-harm must not be included in programmes except where they are editorially justified and are also justified by the context".
For programmes dealing with the subject of suicide, careful thought should be given as to whether it would be appropriate to seek professional advice on how it is being handled and how it might be perceived by vulnerable viewers. Thought should also be given as to whether or not certain information, such as a helpline number, should accompany the programme.
Any such programmes, particularly those scheduled to transmit before the watershed should be referred to the legal and compliance department as early as possible and, in the case of drama, before any scenes portraying suicide have been shot.