BACK in 1961. the then Home Secretary held a conference of representatives of religious, educational, social service and other interests to discuss juvenile delinquency, and in particular the extent to which the incidence of delinquency derives from the general state of society.
Arising from this conference, the Independent Television Authority offered to finance research into the impact of television on society with particular reference to its effect on young people.
Mr. T. F. A. Noble, vice chancellor of the University of Leicester, was appointed chair man of a special committee the Television Research Com mittee-which was given the following terms of reference:
"To initiate and co-ordinate research into the part which television plays or could play, in relation to other influences, as a medium -of communication and in fostering attitudes, with particular reference to the ways in which young people's moral concepts and attitudes develop and on the processes of perception through which they are influenced by television and other media of communication; and to administer any funds made available to it for such research".
In 1963 the names of other members of the committee were announced-they included Mr. J. D. Halloran, a wellknown Catholic sociologistand in July, 1963, the committee had its first meeting.
In the 20 months since, the committee has been hard at
work . .. but it is still far from the stage where it can produce any sort of final report. It must cull, for instance, the mass of material which has been submitted to it-a recent list of "sources" took up six closely-typed pages.
But more importantly, it has found that it really has to start its thinking at a far more basic level than had been anticipated. It was originally envisaged by the Home Secretary that after an initial period of discussion and negotiation with researchers, the committee would make contracts for research and then spend a relatively quiet time awaiting the outcome of the research before making any public statement.
But an interim report by the committee says that when it had "surveyed the research interests and the plans of social scientists in this country," it found that very few of them were working on research topics which related to the terms of reference, even when these were most widely interpreted.
As a result it may even be years before the committee can come up with the answers to all the questions it seeks to ask. In its interim report it says:
4.. . the problem is broader and deeper than television alone; the whole process of communication is involved and as communication is at the base of society, it might be said that fundamentally the committee is concerned with the study of man in society".
Given the complexity of the task, what staggers me is that this committee, engaged in work which has only been touched on in other countries', is expected to manage on the £250,000 grant from ITA-and this spread over five years.
With a mere £50,000 a year at its disposal, it seems to me that this vital piece of research will be needlessly hampered. Indeed, in speaking to one of the committee members, I found that one single research project could eat up a mini mum of 05,000 in a year.
There is a strong case for making all broadcasting and television interests, the other mass media such as press and cinema and the advertising industry, and even the government more and more aware of responsibility which they share in their different ways for the development of a fuller understanding of the communication process and the part it plays in our society.
As the committee says, its researchers cannot simply divorce television from other mass media and come up with a set of concise answers which will prove (or disprove) that children are harmed by watching TV.
As it digs deeper. every form of communication will come under scrutiny. Its findings might even have some relevance to religion, for when one comes down to it, the Churches are as much concerned in all of this as anyone else.