Overwhelming call for phone blockers in theatres

Seven out of ten theatre professionals and theatregoers want mobile phone jamming technology installed in theatres to prevent audience members’ ringtones interrupting shows – an occurrence which has reached epidemic proportions, according to The Stage’s survey.

Following an online poll of more than 1,000 people, made up of cast, crew and theatregoers, The Stage can reveal that a huge majority – 90% of respondents – have had shows that they were either watching or performing in disturbed by a mobile phone going off. Alarmingly, around 10% claimed phones went off every time they visit the theatre.

Meanwhile a clear majority of respondents – nearly three-quarters – were in favour of the stance taken by actors such as Richard Griffiths, who had suspended shows because of interruptions from telephones.

More than 80% felt that theatre managements needed to do more to sort out the problem, with installing technology to block mobile phone signals being by far the most popular option, with imposing fines also popular with around 30% of people.

Both practices would require a change to current law, as phone jammers are currently illegal and legislation that would make phones going off in theatres illegal would have to be introduced for fines to be imposed.

Equity is planning to lobby government to change legislation to allow phone blockers to be used in theatres. Spokesperson Martin Brown commented: “The result of The Stage’s poll is a sign of how much of a problem this has become. It is a sign of disrespect.” He added that “draconian actions” now needed to be taken as a result of the irresponsibility of some audience members.

However, communications industry regulator Ofcom stressed that it had no intention of legalising the devices for use in theatres. A spokesperson explained that jammers were illegal under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 and that it constituted “deliberate interference with the radio spectrum”. He added: “We do take this very seriously and we do prosecute people over this. There are no plans to create any exemption for theatres or cinemas at present. The best piece of advice is for people to make announcements beforehand.”

Society of London Theatre and Theatrical Management Association chief executive Richard Pulford said he felt managements were doing as much as they could do to stop mobiles going off during shows. He added: “It’s a nuisance and it would be good if a practical, legal way could be found of dealing with it.”

* For full details, see this week’s edition of The Stage

Read some of the comments from the reader survey here.

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