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Tripping on TV - a step too far?


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We all know that shock-value sells and television has never shied away from capitalising on that fact. From Derren Brown's 'live' game of Russian Roulette in 2003 to the Dutch TV presenters who ate each others' flesh for the camera last year, it's becoming increasingly difficult to shock a modern audience.

But Keith Allen is trying to do just that. Allen, father of singer Lily, is filming a new documentary for Channel 4 about drugs – and has apparently been filmed taking them for the programme.

The veteran rocker, roller, actor, writer and all around ladies-man has filmed the documentary with Professor David Nutt of Imperial College - a controversial figure.

Professor Nutt became infamous in 2009 when he was dismissed from his position on the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs, for campaigning against government policy.

Nutt has stated in the past that he believes drugs ought to be classified according to the actual harm they cause and that alcohol and tobacco are more harmful than LSD, Cannabis and Ecstasy. He also went on the record saying that taking ecstasy was on a par with riding a horse in terms of the immediate danger it poses to health.

In the new programme Allen will take MDMA (the pure form of ecstasy) as part of a clinical trial into the effects that the drug has on the body - but there are those calling it irresponsible.

There's no doubt that this country is in desperate need of a calm, measured look at drugs, their effects, legality and the social issues that surround them. Between the Daily Mail's hysterical raving, Irving Welsh and Pete Doherty, our society is one that vilifies drugs outright without necessarily fully understanding them.

But is Channel 4, purveyor of such exploitative and voyeuristic gems as 'Big Fat Gypsy Weddings', 'The Undateables' and 'The Tree Man of Java', the right channel to produce that?

When asked to comment, Ofcom spokesperson Chris Wynn highlighted section 2.4 of the Broadcasting Code which states:

Programmes must not include material (whether in individual programmes or in programmes taken together) which, taking into account the context, condones or glamorises violent, dangerous or seriously antisocial behaviour and is likely to encourage others to copy such behaviour.”

Whilst MDMA is currently a Class A drug and the taking thereof could be considered dangerous or antisocial, Allen argues that he is not glamourising drug use.

“If you think that I'm glamorising the taking of drugs by spending an hour and 20 minutes for two consecutive Mondays in an MRI scanning machine then you're insane.

“There were policemen taking part. There were definitely soldiers, people who'd never taken it before. It's a very, very forensic analysis, a neurological analysis of the effects of MDMA. It's a form of ecstasy.”

The programme will feature a range of participants taking a range of different mood-altering substances but Channel 4 insists that it will all be above board. Tests will be conducted ethically, scientifically and in a clinical environment under medical supervision.

A spokesperson from the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation said that the foundation felt it wasn't the right way to broach the subject of illegal drugs, saying: “I'm not convinced this is necessarily a good way to explore them.

“From previous attempts, footage of people taking drugs is usually quite dull and probably unenlightening.”

Without seeing the programme it's hard to judge the tone of the content but to me, the more education about drugs the better. We can only make informed decisions when we have all the facts and any attempt to present a more balanced, less hysterical view of them sounds like good news to me.

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