What do you do if your teenage kids are rude, abusive, on drugs and out of control?
Some programmes handle their subject matter more sensitively than others. I recently saw part of a Channel 4 production, Dana: The 8-Year-Old Anorexic, which was about a girl who weighed just 8 stone and who restricted herself to 175 calories a day. The programme provided an insight into the condition and a warning that girlsand young boys, tooare at risk of developing
anorexia, but we are talking about a child with a form of mental illness, for that is what anorexia is. Could the same point not have been made without parading all the details of that childs life on television?
Many of the shows that are of concern are parenting programmes, such as Supernanny, Little Angels and The House of Tiny Tearaways. I am not going to pass judgment on whether such programmes are educational or exploitative, not least because watching screaming toddlers is not my idea of entertainment; indeed, I have rarely managed to last more than five minutes before switching the television off. However, concerns were raised this year by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which said that the Government should
Intensify its efforts...with the media, to respect the privacy of children...especially by avoiding messages publicly exposing them to shame.
The shows that concern me most, however, are the daytime talk shows, of which The Jeremy Kyle Showdescribed by a judge in a recent criminal court case as human...bear baitingis the most notorious example. The programme serves up damaged people in dysfunctional relationships for entertainment. It is the modern-day equivalent of the freak show. Some shows feature children as participants, but the ones that I want to highlight today do not. Let me quote some titles: If I cant have children, how can it be my baby? and Stop ignoring your daughterIll prove youre the dad!. Then it gets even more complicated: BrotherIll prove Im the father to your ex-girlfriends baby! and Admit youre a prostitute then prove my boyfriends the dad.
After the unedifying spectacle of those couples or former couples airing all their dirty linen in public, the matter is resolved with a DNA test result being announced live on air. I watched one such show last weekpurely in the interests of research, of coursewhich involved a young mother and three young men, each of whom could have been the father of her eight-month-old baby. One had been in prison when the baby was most likely to have been conceived, but was now back in a relationship with her. The second, who was one of his mates, had got together with her once the first had gone inside and had acted as the childs father while he was in prison. Indeed, the second young man even had the childs name tattooed on his neck. The third young man was someone whom she had picked up on the way home from a nightclub and who, when told that he might be the father, had urged her to have an abortion. Of course, when the DNA test results were revealed live on air, it was the last young manthe one who did not want the babywho turned out to be the father.
People might make excuses and say that there is a public interest in showing such programmes or that they may encourage young women and men to be more careful about having unprotected sex. That would certainly be Jeremy Kyles excuse. One might say that the shows producers will ensure that counselling is provided to the participants and that the young man involved will be given advice on how to be a good father, or that the participants do the shows of their own free will.
Someone from ITV called me today and told me that the channel adheres to strict internal guidelines and to those in the broadcasting code. It always requires parental consent for under-16s to appear on a programme, and DNA tests are carried out only when it is an essential part of the storylinea statement that is slightly
disingenuous given that the storyline is usually about who the childs father is. It does not do DNA tests on school-age children, and does them only rarely on children over 18 months oldagain, it is not done unless it is essential to the storylineso the DNA tests mainly involve babies.
One might say that what a baby does not know will not hurt them, but the chances are fairly high that a baby who features on such a television programme will find out about it when they grow up. People in the neighbourhood will not forget about it, and the childs future schoolmates will find out about it, so they risk humiliation and bullying, and feelings of rejection and hurt. I cannot help feeling that even if they do not find out about the programme, there is something plain wrong about it. Perhaps we do not use that word often enough these days.
The obvious line of defence is that it is ultimately the parents prerogative to decide how they bring their child up and to what degree they protect their child from or expose them to the risk of humiliation, embarrassment, bullying or worse. However, parents are enticed and encouraged by the media to appear on such shows, and anecdotal evidence suggests that they are not always sure what they are letting themselves in for. Carole Cadwalladr recently wrote an excellent article in The Observer called When reality bites, it leaves deep scars, which accused the show of disregarding evidence of a young mans mental health problems before he appeared on it. A DNA test was done, confirming that he was the father of a baby girl. When he was interviewed afterwards, he said:
I was totally stitched up...It was public humiliation...I just wanted the DNA test...And I didnt have the money to get it done...it just seemed that they didnt care.
I suspect that there is an element of snobbery involved with such programmes. People think that kids with parents like that will have such dysfunctional lives anyway, and will be exposed to such pernicious influences and will be so damaged that the programme is the least of their problems, but I think that we have to establish a marker in the sand. That is what I want to do with my Bill. Surely the overriding principle when children are involved with such television programmes, either directly or by association, should be whether the shows commissioning or broadcasting would be in their best interests.
must be taken over the physical and emotional welfare and the dignity of people under eighteen who take part or are otherwise involved in programmes...irrespective of any consent given by
must not be caused unnecessary distress or anxiety by their involvement in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children believes that those guidelines do not go far enough, and it has set up an advisory body of experts to consider the welfare of children who participate in reality TV programmes. The NSPCC suggests that there should be greater recognition of the fact that it is often the most vulnerable families who take part in such programmes, and that parents and older children should have the right to veto any programme before its transmission. It also suggests that Ofcom should be
able to intervene before programmes are broadcast and that the use of children in such shows should be carefully monitored. I agree.
All I ask today is that the broadcasters should start to show more responsibility and that the relentless tide taking us towards ever more brutal, humiliating and degrading TV programmes should be halted, at the very least where children are concerned.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Kerry McCarthy, John Battle, Roger Berry, Annette Brooke, Ms Karen Buck, Alistair Burt, Mr. Tom Clarke, Andrew Gwynne, Dr. Doug Naysmith, Mr. Jamie Reed and Alison Seabeck.
Kerry McCarthy accordingly presented a Bill to make provision to protect childrens privacy in the media; to make provision for the protection of children from avoidable emotional distress resulting from participating in, or being the subject of, media programmes or reports; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 28 November, and to be printed [Bill 175].
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 16488/07 and Addenda 1 and 2, draft Directive on the co-ordination procedures for the award of public contracts in the fields of defence and security; and endorses the Governments approach to the negotiations and its view that if, following European Council agreement on a text and negotiations with the European Parliament, the document remains within the UKs negotiating position, the Commission draft Directive could be supported. [Mr. Frank Roy.]
That the following provisions shall apply to the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill [ Lords] for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 6th October 2008 (Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill [ Lords] (Programme)):
Consideration of Lords Message
1. Proceedings on the Lords Message shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement at this days sitting.
2. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement. [Mr. Frank Roy.]