British TV regulator Ofcom reports today that children’s TV in the UK is booming. There is more programming available for children than ever before thanks to digital channels like Nickelodeon. Unfortunately, Ofcom points out that the vast majority of it is imported cartoons. Production of children’s TV in the UK is declining. Those manga-style orgies of violence and fantasywhich are taking over the world are not exactly on an educational level with Sesame Street, indeed, they make the Tellytubbies look positively Shakespearian. But what to do?
My colleague Sonia Livingstone is an expert on children and the media. She tells me that our Prime Minister, the great British patriot Gordon Brown, should campaign for ‘British TV for British Kids’. Sonia says that it is pretty clear that, despite trendy post-modernist theories of the media, sci-fi cartoons are not as ‘good’ for children’s development as well-made programmes with real people, variety and stimulating content.
Much less of that good programming is being made by British broadcasters who have all cut back on the production of children’s TV. They rely on repeats of the Clangers and foreign imports. Some blame the ban on junk-food commercials that have reduced their revenue from adverts. But children’s TV has never made a profit, it relies on a public service subsidy. So over to you again Ofcom.
And does it matter that British children are not consuming British TV? Sonia points out that no-one has ever researched properly whether it does. Instinct tells you that children should consume locally-produced culture (which can still reflect the UK’s diversity) but there is no hard evidence.
Youth media matters because it is part of our children’s education. It also matters because it forms the habits and media literacy of the public. Anyone concerned about grown-up media should worry about what we put in front of our kids.
Charlie – surely with growing levels of child obesity we ought to be restricting availability of kids tv overall – which is what Michael Grade is public-spiritedly offering to do!
It is an issue not so specific to UK per se.
I think the challenge lies in really emphasising on what is said here : Local content is essential for kids since it forms a part of their education.
There’s a bit of a problem with making this a national crusade: some of the American stuff is vastly better than the UK stuff. I’ve become a bit of an expert on kids’ TV lately myself, thanks to my one year old daughter. And I’m afraid the best quality stuff, for that age group at least, is Nick Jr – most of which is animation from across the Atlantic, and often (to be fair to them) revoiced into English accents.
I’m quite happy for my daughter to watch stuff like Dora, the Wonder Pets or the Backyardigans: she enjoys it, it’s well done, and she’s clearly finding it all educational. I’m afraid most of the Cbeebies stuff we come across – and I’m thinking especially of In The Night Garden here – fails on all these counts.
I have to reluctanly agree with Simon. I’ve recently rediscovered (on YouTube of-course) the right-on US seventies children’s series Free to be… and amazingly my 7 year-old loves it. The quality of the songs and stories and the humour are not matched on TV now. And yes, she loves it. Where is the (updated!) equivalent in the UK? It’s not that we can’t, we just don’t.