The European Broadcasting Union’s Guidelines for Programmes when Dealing with the Portrayal of Violence

The European Broadcasting Union is the world’s largest professional association of national broadcasters with 72 active members in 52 countries of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and 50 associate members in 30 countries further afield.

1. Watershed

Programme-makers and schedulers should always take into account the transmission time of their programme when considering matters of content.

Scenes of violence may well make a programme inappropriate for an early placing because of its unsuitability for viewing by children.

In order to avoid any confusion in this matter by the viewing public in general, and parents in particular, there should be a clearly understood watershed at an appropriate time during evening viewing, before which all programmes should be suitable for audiences consisting of a high proportion of children. Parents must accept that responsibility for what their children watch after the watershed lies in large measure with them.

2. News and factual programmes

News and information broadcasts have of necessity to deal on a daily basis with social conflicts in which violence can be a part. The audience should not, and cannot, be protected from this everyday occurrence. Actual violence is acceptable in news programmes as broadcasters have a duty to show factual violence in the world, but the negativity of such acts should be stressed.

News should and will shock viewers at times. With some news stories a sense of shock is part of a full human understanding of what has happened, but care should be taken never to discomfort viewers gratuitously by over-indulgence. The more often viewers are shocked, the more it will take to shock them.

One person’s shock is another person’s news or art. Thus, a decision in this field means striking a balance between the current social consensus on what is acceptable and the broadcaster’s duty to reflect reality as he or she sees it.

In particular, the human dignity of the victim as well as those also affected must not be offended and their personal rights must be respected. Violence in factual programmes should not be so prominent or commonplace as to become sanitized. The public cannot be shielded from the violence which happens daily in the world, but it must be portrayed in the most sensitive way possible.

The degree of violence in news programmes must be essential to the integrity of the programme; care should be taken in the choice of material depending on the time of day at which bulletins are broadcast.

3. Fictional and entertainment programmes

Television drama must be able to reflect important issues truthfully, and violence is part of both nature and society. Drama on television involves the collaboration of many different skills and creative talents. In any collaboration there must be editorial judgement.

Since conflict and its associated violence are somewhat ingrained human traits, they are often made the central component in fictional and entertainment programmes. What is crucial is that the reasons for the existence of violence in the treatment should be portrayed in a plausible manner and violence should not be used in a purely unprovoked manner to entertain and as a way of maximizing the audience.

Gratuitous violence must be proscribed. The more intense the violence, the greater should be the distancing from reality. The aim should be how little violence is necessary without undue dramatic compromise.

The effects of portraying violence are heavily dependent on the form this presentation takes and the dramatic context. Particular care must therefore be taken with realistic presentations with which the viewer may more easily identify. Details of violence and aggressive behaviour which invite imitation should be avoided. Portrayals which trivialize, or indeed glorify, the use of violence, whether physical or psychological, and which present violence as a means of overcoming conflicts, should also be avoided at all costs. It is important that in addition to the causes of violence their destructive consequences should also be shown, and that the use of violence as a way of solving problems should be portrayed critically. Not all violence is physical. Non-physical violence can also be upsetting and shocking, especially to children. This is an important area where particular care should be taken, as is the portrayal of sadistic violence.

Scheduling of fictional and entertainment programmes containing violent scenes is important and adequate warning must be given.

4. Programme acquisitions

Acquired programmes should conform to normal editorial policy.

Violence in distant settings can be relatively less shocking, disturbing or liable to dangerous imitation.

Broadcasters, however, are committed to the vigilant exercise of control; acquisitions should be abandoned if they are incapable of being adapted or edited to conform to guidelines.

Broadcasters will need to ensure the right to edit overtly violent acquisitions before transmission.

Accurate description in promotional material is essential.

5. Programmes for children and young people

Children and young people can be particularly sensitive to violence and brutality. Generally speaking, those rules valid for the totality of the public should be applied in a much stricter manner at times when the audience is more particularly made up of children and adolescents.

Programmes aimed at children should treat the portrayal of violence, both physical and non-physical, with particular caution. Special care should be exercised and careful scheduling is necessary.

In programme choices, programmes should be preferred which propound a positive attitude to life, human values, and non-violence.

Young children do not fully understand the subtleties of good and bad and will readily commit themselves to one side in a conflict. Violence as an easy way of resolving conflict should be avoided. Care should be taken with domestic violence, both physical and verbal. The danger of imitation should always be borne in mind.

When portraying conflicts and violence it should be taken into account that young children are less able to perceive television programmes in their entirety than adults, that they align themselves much more powerfully to individual, visual surface appeal and only gradually become able to differentiate between central and peripheral aspects. Children identify with characters on an emotional level more readily than adults and the corresponding reactions such as fear are stronger and last longer.

The same rules apply to fantasy as to realistic dramas. Care should be taken not to cause anxiety and undesirable tension nor to incite aggressive behaviour.

In news reports, attention should be given to the likely impact, particularly on children viewing alone, of coverage of violence and its consequences.

Programme-makers should clearly understand that moral attitudes and values only emerge gradually throughout childhood, so children and young people are easier to influence than adults.

Programmes should take care therefore not to undermine the moral development of minors.

6. Programme trails and signposting

Programmes containing scenes of violence may be required to be preceded by a detailed warning announcement, but overuse of warnings can render them ineffective. They should not be used as disclaimers against the programmes that follow.

Prudence must be exercised in respect of promotional material and the transmission time of a trail must always be borne in mind.

Trails should honestly reflect the type of programmes being trailed.

Violence as a means of promotion of programmes should not be permitted. Taking violent scenes arbitrarily out of context may shock viewers unfairly.

It may be legitimate to let viewers know if the film or programme being trailed does contain violent scenes, but there is a fine line between effective description and exploitative come-on.

7. Advertising

Advertising should not use violence as a means to sell a product nor as an incitement to violent behaviour. Since children up to a certain age are far less able than adults to recognize the intentions of advertising, and to judge it critically, they are therefore open to influence to a greater extent. Advertising should not exploit the weaknesses of young consumers by using either fear or violence.

Released in 1992