The Express has long been spiralling into self-parody, trying to outdo itself daily with the spittle-flecked outrage, thinly veiled racism and pearl-clutching horror. It's got to the state now where you see a front page like this
and you start thinking to yourself: no, come off it, this can't be real. Even they wouldn't do a story about BBC 'FILTH', would they? But I'm here to tell you it is real. That one less hour in bed hasn't frazzled your brain; this is a real front page of a real national newspaper.
"Children as young as five" is one of those wonderful catch-all tabloid phrases. It's like JUST YARDS FROM A SCHOOL, which gets wheeled out every now and then when talking about paedophiles or any kind of frowned-upon behaviour - since pretty much everywhere in the world is yards from a school (we're just not saying how many yards), it's always true, and always sounds about 110 times more shocking than the reality. If you've dipped into a tabloid recently, chances are you will have read that children AS YOUNG AS FIVE, or six, or seven, or eight - or whichever age sounds simultaneously the most plausible and terrifying - were being 'exposed to mephedrone'. Were they? It doesn't matter! If one five-year-old, once, was in the same room as a packet of meow meow, then that's a five-year-old being exposed to mephedrone. Is it really the same as m-cat parties in the local playgroup? Of course not. It's not about representing the facts; it's about ramping up the fear factor.
How are families being HIT by this BBC 'FILTH', anyway? Is Mark Thompson chucking lumps of donkey shit out of a bucket from the top of Broadcasting House? Well, let's see.
CHILDREN as young as five are watching horrific post-watershed TV scenes of sex and violence at the click of a button.
TV regulator, Ofcom, found that three per cent of children from five to seven have internet in their own bedrooms, which they can use to watch the TV-on-demand websites.
It also discovered that only 12 per cent of parents with children aged five to 15 had bothered to set up a PIN or password, and almost 40 per cent of parents had “no idea” the safeguards even existed.
You might say it's a bit of a leap from 'three per cent of children aged five to seven have internet in their own bedrooms' to 'children as young as five are watching a load of old smut and gore'. The password percentage is also a bit misleading because older children are involved. What's the percentage of parents of five to seven-year-olds who have set up a password or PIN? But even then, there's no guarantee that five-year-olds are sitting up in their rooms watching sexually explicit or violent programmes - and you could add that if they've got unrestricted access to the internet with no parental controls, they may well come across a whole lot worse than Wallander on the world wide web.
Oh, didn't I mention? The Express has used angst-ridden Swedish detective series Wallander - which as you know, I'm a big fan of - as an example of the terrible filth that five-year-olds can watch on the BBC iPlayer:
The Sunday Express watched an episode of the adult crime drama Wallander on the BBC iPlayer by simply confirming, with one click, that we were over 16.
The episode showed a jogger in the woods pursued by a hooded man who strangles him. There were also graphic, bloody images of a man’s corpse with cane spears poking through his chest.
Now I'm not a parent, but I don't know if many five-year-olds would think: Ooh, an hour and a half of existential meanderings with Kenneth Branagh: that beats the hell out of Ooglies any day! Who knows. I don't think I'd sit my non-existent kids down and watch it and I doubt they'd thank me if I did (though of course I'd be delighted). It's a hell of a leap to imagine young children would select this kind of programme in the first place and that they'd have the attention span to watch it till the gory bits, if we're to imagine they stumbled across it accidentally out of curiosity; and if they are there just looking for the gory bits, then as I've said, they're going to find a whole lot worse than a man impaled on bamboo canes elsewhere on the web.
Do we really want Auntie to be a nanny, and to step in where parents don't impose controls? Shouldn't it be up to the parents of these children to decide what they watch on TV and online? As the article states, the iPlayer has those controls, should parents wish to exercise them: if they don't, then you can't go around saying "Oh no, look at what these children have access to!" because you have to assume the parents don't really mind, or are very thick. Must we always reduce everything to the level of the very thick? Or should we think: well, these parents have actually had children, which is quite grown up, and social services haven't taken them away yet, so let's give them a chance and assume they know what they're doing, or at the very least that they're doing what they want, and who are we to intervene?
Well no. Of course not, if you're a tabloid and you're trying to manufacture some outrage over the BBC's 'filth'* and assume that the Watershed, far from being a guideline for parents to decide, is there to protect the little ones from themselves and their parents - everything after 9pm could corrupt you, whereas everything before won't! So here comes MediaWatch, who if you're not familiar with them are the Taxpayers Alliance / MigrationWatch of broadcasting, always there with a sharp intake of breath whenever you need them:
“I’m very disturbed by what I was able to access,” said Vivienne Pattison, director of Mediawatch. “I don’t want these shows banned, just access to them restricted. It makes a mockery of the watershed.”
Sigh. But there already is access restricted. Parents can set as many controls as they want on these things; it's just that the default setting is for there to be no controls because most TV viewers aren't young children, and furthermore, not unreasonably the broadcasters might think that it's up to the parents to do this, you know, because they're parents and they should take responsibility for their own children...? No...? No.
If you were wondering where the 'filth' from the headline came from, you should give a hearty round of applause to Labour rentagob Barry Sheerman, who vomited up this, when probed:
Labour MP Barry Sheerman, Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, said: “Our broadcasters who put this sort of filth online should be forced to ensure children are unable to access it.”
Filth? The shows mentioned in the article are Wallander, Live At The Apollo, Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, Being Human and Misfits. None of which I'd regard as 'filth'. (You might say the acting in 'Secret Diary' is pretty atrocious, but apart from that it's not offensive: just a silly bit of very, very softcore stuff.) You could find any MP to make the contrary point, that it's the parents' responsibility to police what their kids watch and have access to, but the Express (or possibly whoever put this story together for them) chose Barry. Because he's just as worried about it as they are, and besides, he used the key word 'filth', which rings a ruddy great bell when it comes to this kind of article.
You have to give the tabloids credit, though; they like to juggle around the bogeymen and keep it fresh. Will it be cancer, or drugs, or immigrants, or TV filth, or the internet? Life at the Express is like a box of chocolates: except with all the centres filled up with a different kind of shit every day.
* There is another element as to why the Express might be so keen to get rid of free-to-air 'filth' (if it did exist) of course. That would mean Express publishers Northern & Shell would have less competition for its premium porn services Television X, Redhot and Gay TV. But I am sure it was just the concern for the little bairns that led to this article being produced.