Rebecca Duffett spoke with Vivienne Pattison from Mediawatch

Vivienne Pattison
Vivienne Pattison

More than 1,000 viewers complained to Ofcom after highly sexualised performances by Christina Aguilera and Rihanna on the X Factor final. X-Factor was the family favourite of the autumn season and was watched by almost 20 million viewers, nearly a quarter of whom are believed to be children. Mediawatch, who campaign for family values in the media, are concerned about the media's role in the creation of our hyper-sexualised society and feel the X Factor final was totally inappropriate for a pre-watershed broadcast. To find out more Rebecca Duffett spoke with Director Vivienne Pattison.

Rebecca: Could you explain what the problem is that you have with X Factor, isn't it just family entertainment?

Vivienne: I think our big problem with X-Factor, or at least the one that stands out, has been the last show of the series. Obviously it's really heavily promoted and nearly 20 million people watched it. What is of concern to us is they had two global music stars Rihanna and Christina Aguilera performing on the show. This is a show that is heavily aimed at families and children and goes out before the watershed and quite frankly, particularly with Christina Aguilera it looked like we had strayed into a lap dancing club with half naked dancers, with lots of crotch grinding and pseudo sexual stuff. We think that was totally inappropriate for that time of day, to be broadcasting it in something that really is such a family show, so popular with children.

Rebecca: Do you think this could be equally as damaging as swearing which is put on after nine o'clock?

Vivienne: I think it is even more potentially damaging than swearing. On one level I think you're looking at a programme where people are fighting it out to make it to be the biggest pop star - the new sensation; but what are we telling, particularly girls, that are watching that? We're saying that in order to make it, you have to take your kit off and look like you've come from a porn film; that's all that's required of you. I think that's something that's really has come across in the show. I think this incredibly sexualised broadcast is a great worry.

The Government launched a brand new initiative at the beginning of the week. They were going to launch the enquiry into the sexualisation of children in our culture. That's of great concern, in fact I think the Coalition made it point number four in their coalition agreement to do something about it because it's incredibly damaging to children if they're prematurely sexualised and not allowed to grow up at their own pace. It's linked to all sorts of things from depression and poor academic performance, right through to eating disorders, self-harm and early uptake of risky sexual practices. It is terribly important; it really isn't just a little bit of fun.

Rebecca: Will the complaints about X Factor to OFCOM be dealt with in the same way that complaints about other things before the watershed are?

Vivienne: We're very pleased that lots of people did think that this was totally inappropriate and did complain to Ofcom. I think that the current count is about 1,500 people complaining, which is fantastic, because I have been told in the past anecdotally that they know that each one complaint represents a lot more people that don't get around to it.

At Mediawatch we've been campaigning for family values in the media for nearly 50 years. This issue has really crossed some boundaries that other people working in the field of child protection, not necessarily focussing on the media, have said, 'Hey this isn't appropriate' and parents watching it have said it isn't appropriate.

I would just like to quote an email that I had from somebody who wasn't a member of Mediawatch who emailed me after the broadcast. The lady said that she is a social worker who works in child protection and she said, 'I was horrified to see the explicit sexual soft-porn dancing on the X-Factor. The powers that be should come and work for a month in child protection to see the results of children being exposed to soft and hard porn images like this. Many of these children then abuse their own siblings, friends and then onto adult rape. When there's another James Bulger case the public will be jumping up and down and saying, social workers should be doing this or social workers should be doing that. What children see and hear whether on TV, videos etc begins in the home and if they're fed with sexual images they'll play them out'.

I think it's incredible that there's someone who's working at the sharp end and seeing the effects of this sort of material on children everyday. I think it's leaving social workers very exposed, trying to clear up some really unfortunate cases and cleaning up the mess that we've left behind. I think as a society and as parents it is absolutely our job to protect our own children from what they see. I think that we also owe it to other children whose parents maybe cannot or won't protect them.

There's a contract that exists implicitly between viewers and broadcasters. We all know about the watershed and something like 95% of people in the country know what it is and when it is, that it's after nine o'clock. There is a feeling that if you put the television on for family viewing before nine o'clock you're going to be ok and on this occasion I think they misjudged it.

Rebecca: Is this an isolated case with X-Factor, or is it more widespread than that?

Vivienne: I think we are increasingly seeing a pushing of boundaries. The soap operas particularly are all chasing after ratings and where one goes, the other will follow and move it on a bit. I think we are seeing things that we wouldn't have seen a decade ago, particularly in early evenings, 7.30pm, 8pm soap operas, which I think is really unfortunate. This whole boundary pushing is whittling away the water-shed. The water-shed is there for a reason. It is there to protect children. I think we should take it seriously. CR

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