Entertainment & Arts

BBC boss Tony Hall questions TV watershed and The Archers

Children watching television Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The watershed is in effect between 21:00 and 05:30

The 9pm television watershed may not survive, as on-demand viewing becomes more prevalent, the BBC director general Tony Hall has said.

Designed to protect children from unsuitable material, the rule stipulates that broadcasters must not show adult content before 21:00.

Lord Hall told the Radio Times the watershed was "still a useful way of judging" taste and decency issues.

"But has the watershed got a future in 20 or 30 years' time? I suspect not."

Since 2003, broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has taken action on more than 300 occasions when broadcasters have scheduled unsuitable content before or immediately after the watershed.

But the advent of the iPlayer and other on-demand services such as ITV Player and 4 On Demand means that viewers can access age-restricted material at any time of the day, although parents have the option of setting passwords and content locks.

The current BBC policy on the watershed states: "Programmes broadcast between 05.30 and 21:00 must be suitable for a general audience including children.

"The earlier in the evening a programme is placed, the more suitable it should be for children to watch without an older person.

"Programmes in later pre-watershed slots may not be suitable for the youngest children or for children to watch without an older person.

"Only in exceptional circumstances can there be any departure from this practice."

'Archers is precious'

In the same interview, Lord Hall was asked about concerns that Radio 4 soap The Archers had become too sensationalist.

"The Archers matters," the director general said. "It is an extraordinary drama."

"I realise this because I live with some Archers devotees, I know how people feel about The Archers.

"I hope [Radio 4 controller] Gwyneth [Williams] and the team will be thinking about what is happening and making sure that we don't lose what is precious," he added.

Image caption The Archers is one of the BBC's most popular radio shows

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett has been the most high-profile critic of the show, following the arrival of its new boss Sean O'Connor, who previously worked on EastEnders and Footballers' Wives.

Last year, the MP said the soap he had listened to since he was four had left him "losing the will to live".

"Under new management - new editor, new writers - I fear that The Archers is on the verge of becoming the disappearing soap," he said.

Recent plots to have raised fans' eyebrows have included Roy Tucker having an affair with Elizabeth Pargetter, whose husband was killed off when he fell off a roof in the 60th anniversary episode.

Radio 4 boss Gwyneth Williams recently denied the show had become too sensational, telling Radio 4: "If you look back, there have always been extraordinary things going on in The Archers - kidnaps, arsons, all kinds of things."

The series, which has an average weekly audience of 4.7 million listeners, topped a list of the most downloaded BBC shows of the past decade.

A Radio 4 spokesperson said: "As Tony Hall says, The Archers is an extraordinary drama and, alongside other long-running shows, evolves with the times.

"We always listen to our audiences and the importance of The Archers is very much recognised by the team behind the show as well as the millions of listeners who tune in each week."

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