29 September 2003

Methodist concern over 'potentially damaging' paranormal TV

The Methodist Church has voiced concern that exposure to certain paranormal practices on television can be "potentially damaging to many people".

The concerns were expressed this week in a submission by the Church in response to a consultation by the Independent Television Commission (ITC). The ITC has been seeking the views of churches and other organisations as part of proposals to review its programme code on paranormal programming.

The Methodist submission "broadly welcomes" the ITC's proposed changes, but warns that "certain paranormal practices are never presented as entertainment. Exorcism and the use of ouija boards clearly fall into this category".

The submission goes on to that that the revised code should "require that a programme should not attempt to include both 'legitimate investigation' and 'entertainment' in the same programme, but should make clear to the viewer into which category the programme falls".

The Methodist Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs, Ms Rachel Lampard, welcomed the fact that the ITC was taking the growth of paranormal programming seriously. She said: "Methodists would be concerned about an editorial approach to paranormal programming that treats all phenomena, beliefs and practices as being of equal importance and significance."

A strong code of practice was vital across all broadcasters - including newer cable and satellite channels - to ensure that audiences are given the tools with which to make informed judgements about the impact of certain practices.

The Methodist submission calls on the code to ensure programme makers exercise great care "if they make decisions to broadcast frightening and traumatic footage, for example of an exorcism. In the interests of harm and offence, the presumption should be against showing such footage".

In programmes with a studio audience, there must be a "clear duty of care towards audiences involved in psychic 'experiments'.

Children must be protected by a properly-enforced watershed across all channels and not just on terrestrial channels.

The submission expresses concern about the code's distinction between "occult" and "psychic" practices: "It is important not to oversimplify this distinction with the result that the broadcasting of psychic phenomenon becomes wholly acceptable."

Personal advice that is given during programmes should not tend towards the psychic nor be linked with the promotion of particular products.

Follow-up material sent out to viewer that request such material should be responsible in tone and content - and no further contact with the viewer should be made.

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