On the day the Broadcasting Standards Council launches its report on

violence and sex on television during 1994, Stuart Cosgrove,

commissioning editor for Channel 4, explains the philosophy behind the

channel's Red Light Zone series

TELEVISION is a promiscuous medium. It has a phenomenal appetite for

sex and sexuality, but more importantly, it has a lust for new ideas

which is virtually impossible to satisfy.

Each week, the number of television channels available to British

viewers multiplies and new approaches to programming come on stream. It

is an environment that encourages television's promiscuity, and erodes

the basic principles of broadcasting. The loyal viewer is already a

thing of the past; there is now a receding generation of people who can

be relied on to tune in same time, same place, next week.

Facing a more competitive and less certain future, television is

hurriedly following the manufacturers' lead, and is busy creating a set

of recognisible brand-names which they hope will assert an authority on

the viewer's mind. This process is known as stranding -- the television

term for grouping individual programmes into a strand, a series, or a

season. Channel 4 has already created several significant strands -- The

Big Breakfast in the early morning, the Happy Hour from 5pm-7pm, and

seasons of programming, like Bloody Bosnia and Dinomania, which housed

very diverse programmes about war and dinosaurs.

This month, Channel 4 launches one of its most ambitious programme

strands, the Red Light Zone -- more than 24 hours of programming which

will be broadcast late on Saturday nights exploring the sex trade,

prostitution and pornography. The idea is simple; to create a late-night

zone of adult programming which will question some of the issues and

ideas that can be found in the red light districts of most major cities.

It is an ambitious idea, and one fraught with problems, particularly

when set against a backdrop of increasing moral concern about

broadcasting standards and the erosion of taste and decency. But the Red

Light Zone has been programmed with issues and ideas very firmly in

mind. In this respect it welcomes the inevitable controversy, not for

the sake of controversy itself, but for the wider discussion it will

provoke. The programmes that Channel 4 intends to broadcast have been

chosen precisely because they raise questions about power and pleasure

in the sex industries.

The Red Light Zone has chosen as its motto the phrase ''You Can't

Police Desire'' -- a challenge not to moral orthodoxy, but to Channel

4's own unique status as a broadcaster obliged by its remit to encourage

innovation and difference. It is an initiative more likely to divide

opinion than to unite it, and will broadcast programmes that are as

likely to challenge feminism as much as Christianity, and to question

motivation as much as morality.

The programmes in the Red Light Zone add up to more than the sum of

their sexual parts. A number of significant themes recur across the

range of programmes -- the role of woman in the sex industries, the

diversity of sexual pleasure, and the tensions between sex, money and


The series opens with a short film report from New York, entitled NYPD

Nude, filmed by the Derry-based director Margo Harkins. The programme

revolves around the experiences of Carol Shaya, a police officer working

in a busy and violent police precinct in the Bronx. Pursuing a career as

a model, Shaya sent photographs of herself to Playboy magazine, and

agreed to appear in the pages of the magazine.

As the pages of Playboy unravel she is seen arresting a felon, then

stripping off the various layers of her police uniform, lying naked

against a police car, and finally sitting legs akimbo with her police

baton acting as a phallic partner.

The photos caused a furore inside the New York Police Department and

the film charts the progress of the argument -- Shaya's suspension from

duty, her appearance on nationwide talk shows, the anger of other women

in the precinct, and the wider issue of constitutional rights. The film

hinges on one central dispute. Appearing naked in Playboy is Carol

Shaya's constitutional right under the free speech provision of the

First Amendment, but her decision to appear in a police uniform and

implicate it within the realm of sexual fantasy was an imposition on

other women officers who were dragged into the dispute against their


Using rights and duties as the spine of its argument, the film

inevitably touches on questions of pornography, sexual harassment in the

work-place and the role of women in the police.

White Jazz, a film by the Glasgow-based film-maker Nicola Black, takes

a very different view of the world of sex and crime. In a stunning and

compellingly shot film she focuses on the dark and obsessive world of

the cult crime writer James Ellroy, as he investigates his own mother's

murder in the red light zones of post-war Los Angeles.

Ellroy's vision is pure dystopia. The streets are populated with

freaks, perverts and third-world bug-eaters. No-one lives in anything as

simple as a house; they live in flop-shops and two-bit freak-shacks.

Moving effortlessly and sometimes imperceptibly, the film is a voyage

through the debris of two simultaneous murders; the infamous death of

the Black Dahlia, a sexually promiscuous dreamer whose body was found

decapitated in South Central in the years after the war, and the

unsolved murder of Ellroy's mother, strangled by an unknown assailant

she picked up in a singles bar.

The film is a career gift. How many world-famous writers collaborate

with a young Scottish film-maker and agree to re-open the case of their

murdered mother? White Jazz accepts the gift with an assurance; the

cinematography screams style, mixing old 16mm black and white with

deep-burnished sunsets, and time-lapse images of downtown LA.

Most of the films scheduled to be broadcast across the first eight

weeks of the Red Light Zone go beyond the sex industries and touch wider

social concerns. Paul McGuigan's Go-Go Archipelago appears on the

surface to be a film about strippers, but ends up being a metaphor for

migration. The strippers in question are the Russian immigrants who have

fled the former Soviet Union to embrace capitalism in all its naked

intransigence and work as go-go dancers in America's biggest Russian

ghettos, near Coney Island and Brooklyn's Brighton Beach. As blue-collar

Americans stand desperate and alone in cheap-skate bars stuffing dollar

bills into the cupped breasts of the Russian dancers, the whole question

of sexual power wriggles with uncertainty. Rich American, poor Russian.

Lonely man, confident woman. Resident and illegal immigrant. Old and


The film views the go-go bars from the vantage point of the strippers.

It listens to their views of Amercia, and its huddled masses. The girls

appear in various states of undress, sometimes naive and sometimes

deliberately naughty. They are often cynical about their work and

frequently reminisce about home -- Odessa, the Black St Petersburg. They

talk about mothers and fathers, and babies back home. They tell you they

hate America -- in a loving kind of way.

Despite the arguments for and against pornography, nothing is absolute

in the Red Light Zone.

The films frequently act as a front-room response to tourism. They

offer the viewer a perspective on societies they may know only by

reputation. The series travels from Sunset Strip to Thailand, from the

Philippines to Soho, and from 42nd Street to the transsexual prostitutes

who live beneath the gaze of Islam in the red light districts of


The legacy of power is a brooding presence throughout another new

film, Manningham Diaries by the Leeds-based film-maker Dominique Walker.

Her film is structured around a series of real extracts from diaries

kept by prostitutes in Bradford's Manningham district, an area where the

Yorkshire Ripper claimed several victims.

Manningham is a red light zone virtually stripped of myth and romance.

There is no stylised Americana here, just women with gravel voices and

red-brick lives, selling their bodies for food, for rent, and inevitably

for drugs. Set in a derelict mill, and on the streets of Bradford, it

offers sex as a dismal reality, stripped of all the fictionalised

erotica of Sunset Strip. Manningham is as much a survival zone as a red

light zone.