A balanced approach

In ITV’s Tonight programme hosted by the ever reliable Sir Trev, Sylvia Lancaster – mother of slain goth girl Sophie, brutally attacked trying to save her boyfriend from five drunken youths – toured Europe looking into how other member states deal with their teens.

It’s certainly admirable that Sylvia is campaigning against the issues of teen violence that seem to plague us more than ever before, if the media’s to be believed. She’s a brave woman, and doing something wholly positive about the horror that’s affected both her and many, many others. Sadly, though, the programme did seem to lack the balance that must be borne out if such issues are to be effectively addressed.

Which brings me to my point: on Sylvia’s first point of call in a small Italian town the size of her own, the programme depicted her chatting to a group of Italian teenagers after they’d viewed footage of binge-drinking British youngsters.

‘I’d tell them to stop it, it’s illegal!’ cried out one of the youths on what he’d do if he saw an (underage) friend drinking.

Following this, Syvia joined one or two of the teenagers for a very respectable family meal at their very respectable family home – with a sip of wine for the (underage) teens included.

‘The children start drinking at about 12 years old with their meals, but not much,’ said the father.

It’s likely very true – generally speaking, our more sophisticated European neighbours do tend to handle their drink better. We, on the other hand, save it all up for a nice drunken Friday night and subsequent sore-headed Saturday. (And then, most times, do it all again that evening.)

But just like the drink wasn’t solely to blame for Sophie’s death (their violence and agression, and perhaps their prejudice was) these aren’t the only teenagers in Italy, or Europe, for that matter – and not all teenagers are so well brought up and well-rounded.

We have teenagers like that in this country. And their parents should be proud.

But there are also a lot of problem kids, everywhere – for whatever reason (saying ‘the parents are to blame’ is not the only answer). But yes, our figures are higher than some other member states – even scarily so – when it comes to things like teenage pregnancy and alcoholism. And crime, come to that.

Regular – okay, daily – family get-togethers round the dinner table may not be the solution – but they may well be the start. It doesn’t seem right to do away with laws and measures intended to protect our youngsters, either – where our European cousins may be able to handle a civilised glass of wine with Sunday lunch our 24-hour drinking laws have not produced a similar effect (do we pace ourselves now bars are open later? Do we heck.) Putting a knife in someone’s hand does not necessarily cause them to stab someone. Nor does drinking. But, given a predilection for violence, of course, and perhaps with a hefty dose of alcohol in the mix, that person may well choose to inflict injury on another.

What did seem the right school of thought, however, was apparent on Sylvia’s trip to Finland, where it was explained kids were engaged with from as young as six or eight-years-of-age – by youth workers like Sylvia herself – with the rates of crime committed by that age phenomenally low. Problems and traits were identified and dealt with from a young enough age before they became deep-rooted and garnered the consequences.

Sylvia herself agreed.

Early intervention. Why start helping and working with troubled teens when it may already be too late?
Locking kids up is not always the answer. Talking and working with them is.

You can watch the Tonight programme Fixing Broken Britain online for 30 days.

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2 Responses

  1. Any lack of balance in the programme pales into insignificance when compared with its failure to address the real and very serious underlying issues. There is a limit in what can be achieved in fewer than 30 minutes of tabloid style television and in my view, it is perfectly permissible to save time by not repeating what any visitor to mainland Europe would regard as self-evident, ie. no country is perfect in respect to violence but most are substantially better than the UK.

    For me, the programme’s greatest failing was in highlighting some of the differences in social culture that may explain why Europe has less of a problem with excessive drinking and yet, going on to unquestioningly permit a Scottish politician to waffle on about more repressive legislation that fails to take any account of the European experience.

    Drink itself is not the problem – it is merely a symptom of a serious and worsening social malaise in the UK. Sophie Lancaster was not killed by drink; she was killed by 2 vicious little runts completely devoid of any humanity or social responsibility. Drink may blur judgement but, surely, nobody but the most zealous of abolitionists believes that the consumption of alcohol can be solely responsible for such savagery?

    Sylvia Lancaster needs the committed support of the media; not to be exploited for a cosy 30 minutes bolstering Sir Trevor’s caring credentials. Whole schedules should be turned over with the aim of shaming politicians into endorsing real solutions instead of the usual knee-jerk response of yet more legislation. We need a return to education instead of the half-baked stream of ‘initiatives’ that are more concerned with cutting costs and benefiting employers; we need to promote family life where children come before work; we need to love and care for our children, not just as parents but as a society; we need to encourage responsibility (and a person can only be responsible if s/he has something to be responsible for so we need to stop the constant nannying of the state and be allowed to make our own decisions); we need to step back from the Thatcherite law of the jungle and create a more equal society where individuals are valued for the contribution they make instead of how they make it; we need to stop criminalising dustbin owners, motorists, cannabis users etc and start spending more time on the real criminals such as Sophie’s killers who destroy our lives rather than theirs; we need politicians to set an example of decency and to stop lying/dissembling to us…. ..

    The full list is considerably longer but Britain’s problems are undeniably structural: no amount of legislation or punishment is going to alter the fact that ours is a fundamentally unfair society that permits many of its citizens to be treated with contempt. Inevitably, this promotes alienation, disaffection and an erosion of values. Such a situation is only exacerbated by ill-judged measures such as raising the age at which alcohol can be consumed. Sophie’s killers ignored the law as it stands, why would amending it make any difference?

    Sophie’s killers need to be locked up and never released – it is too late for them. The rest of us, politicians and the media especially, need to start addressing the inequalities that are spawning our feral society.

    So, shame on Tonight – not for a lack of balance but for a failure to red-bloodedly and one-sidedly hold politicians to account. If only you’d shown Sophie’s courage…

  2. Very well put, John. At the very least, the programme was transparent enough to lay blame on Gordon Brown for not making time to meet with Sylvia – after he’d promised to help her live on GMTV.

    Of course, half an hour is never enough time to fully discuss and explore these issues. Quite why various branches of the media are picking up on them more and more regularly.

    But in doing so, very often – and Channel 4 itself has been accused of this – the media is accused of ‘ambulance chasing’, scaremongering and profiteering from covering such issues (selling adspace, in C4’s case).

    It’s a (no pun intended) double-edged sword. Without picking up on social issues of this magnitude – which ultimately is what journalism should serve to do – it would be deemed ignorant, and fail to stir public debate.

    And of course, by doing so, it is fulfilling its responsibilities and shining a light on all the things good and bad about our country and the world at large. And if that happens to sell a few ads, then that’s really par for the course.

    Debate of all forms is important – and if Tonight got a few more people talking – and a few more politicians to wake up and take action – then so much the better.

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