Reporter 435, 26 April 1999


Remote research reveals five-year life of those turning on, tuning in and writing up

It is charming and seductive but a real turn-off during the day. Old people still enjoy it, but the young don't indulge as much as we think. Size? Small but high quality please, oh, and just stop messing about with the news will you. On after the break - what the great British public thinks about television.

Those believing TV rots the brain may be surprised by a new book co-written by University Communications Studies lecturer David Gauntlett. Not only did the grey matter of his five hundred sample viewers stay safely intact for five years, but it remained sufficiently active for them to keep comprehensive diaries discussing TV and their everyday lives. The results are published in a new book, TV Living, Culture and Everyday Life, to be launched later this week.

"In writing the book we were determined to reflect people's real, everyday experience of watching television within the broader context of their lives," said Dr Gauntlett. "We found a richness and diversity in the diaries, as well as many gripping, moving life stories."

The diarists had strong feelings about a range of TV issues. Viewers felt there was a lack of ethical standards in news journalism, and they wished to see more sensitivity given to victims of violent crime. They were more likely, for example, to criticise news coverage of the death of James Bulger than attack fictional television violence.

Many viewers had little interest in 24-hour news. They were also unhappy with the rescheduling of news bulletins, which provide them with marker points throughout the day. Daytime TV was dismissed as trivial rubbish. Unemployed people at home during the day felt patronised by the programmes, which often address them as 'housewives'.

Not surprisingly, people's views on television varied with age. Older viewers feel television gives them 'virtual mobility' and keeps them in touch with the world. However, the elderly (and children) generally avoid programmes made especially for them, which they consider boring and patronising.

The study - devised by the British Film Institute - also refuted the idea that teenagers sit at home mindlessly absorbing hours of television. Teenagers living with their parents watch less television than other groups and considered going out with friends to be much cooler than a night in with the cathode ray tube.

A finding likely to raise questioning eyebrows in the nation's living rooms suggests men and women make joint decisions about what to watch.

"Previous studies claim men dominate a household's TV choices," said Dr Gauntlett. "But fewer than one in every ten men living in mixed households felt it was their right to choose what everybody watched."

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, men become involved in the emotional turmoil of the residents of Brookside and Coronation Street as much as women. "Men enjoy soaps. Academics should stop talking about soaps as a women's genre," said Dr Gauntlett.

TV Living, Culture and Everyday Life, written by David Gauntlett and Annette Hill and published by Routledge will be launched on April 29 at The Groucho Club, London. For more information contact Hannah Daws at the BFI on 0171 957 8919; email hannah.daws@bfi.org.uk

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