Memorandum submitted by the National Campaign
for Children's Radio
1a. The need: The reduction
in children's viewing hours on ITV and the effect new advertising
restrictions may have on funding programmes for them keep children's
television at the forefront of debate about the future of UK media.
However, radio is of equal importance for the young but is too
often neglected as the poor relation.
b. It is important to maintain this trusted
and accessible medium as a key component in children's cultureboth
for the radio industry and the benefit of society as a whole.
Children are radio's futureboth as the makers and the takersbut
history shows that, left hostage to commercial pressure or the
whim of BBC executives, radio services for children go to the
wall. Sustained public lobbying and the commitment of a few dedicated
professionals has generated a small renaissance in radio for children
over the last few years but their share of this vastly extended
territory is relatively small and listeners aged birth to 10 years
remain the most vulnerable and poorly served audience.
c. In an extraordinary anomaly UK law protects
children's television but not their radio. Conversely, adults
[designated as 15 years and above] have their radio safeguarded
by legislation and enjoy many hundreds of stations.
d. By what criteria do policy makers dictate
radio to be less important than television for the leisure and
development of the young? This would seem to contravene the UN
Convention on Children's Rights, which commands their access to
media, information, education, and for their voices to be heard
and listened to... all most certainly the business of radio.
e. Many parents and professionals in child-care
consider radio to be the preferable medium for childrenespecially
in early years. It encourages listening: a prerequisite for language
acquisition, it promotes concentration, imagination, physical
and mental co-ordination and can assist families with English
as a foreign language. Radio can help to address the worrying
increases in language delay, attention disorders and obesity by
bringing a necessary balance to the predominant screen and keyboard
culture that is often blamed for these problems.
f. Radio can also provide an excellent seeding
ground for other children's media, such as publishing, TV and
filmextending employment opportunities for Britain's creative
and technical workforce and generating important overseas sales.
2a. The BBC: For years, as public
service provider and brand leader, the BBC claimed children didn't
want radio but only TV and pop music. The rest, they said, could
buy tapes. So children's radio died, while grown-ups enjoyed ever
more listening choice [and also bought tapes]. Do we remove fresh
fruit and green vegetables because kids prefer burgers and pop?
It was only through sustained public pressure and a few enlightened
executives that the BBC revived a meagre half hour for children
on R4 on Sunday evenings in the same slot where they had argued
that children had not tuned in.
b. In 2001 the DCMS held a public consultation
about the BBC's new DAB proposals and Children 2000 commissioned
a MORI survey to inform the debate. Results showed the public
to prefer a network for younger children by 18% above any of the
corporation's five new formats but Auntie opted instead to schedule
children's programmes in BBC 7an adult speech service to
which its own research showed children would not be drawn and
which was acknowledged to favour a middle class audience.
c. The public's preference for a dedicated
national children's network remains unfulfilled
d. It should be remembered that the nation's
airwaves are not the private fiefdom of governments, regulators,
commercial interests or the BBC. They belong to the people who,
too often, have little understanding or say in the deployment
of this national resource. Consultations about broadcasting and
communications developments need to range far wider than an increasingly
challenged industry dominated by a few large players. With innovative
thinking beyond the bottom line, radio can serve both commercial
and public interests wisely and well.
3a. The technology: As pointed out
at a recent Westminster Media Forum on Children's Media, the rush
towards convergence of broadcasting services on mobile 'phones
is of little use to young children. The jury is still out regarding
the effect of microwaves on young brains and ear-buds, trailing
wires and small batteries can cause infection or choking. A solid
kitchen radio that can be moved around and taken outside for solo
or shared enjoyment is best.
4a. The added value: A priority
has been made of early education, with the government pledging
free part-time nursery places for all four-year-olds and now all
three-year-olds. The 2005-06 per capita spend in the UK
for a pre-school child was £4,645*. A complementary radio
network could be added for under £4 per annum per child.
What better value could you ask for?
b. Radio can help to maximise the many millions
from the public purse invested in early years and family support.
The Minister for Children and Families, Beverley Hughes, has unveiled
plans for training a 'Parenting Workforce' to ensure that parents
who need tuition in sharing nursery rhymes, songs and stories
with their children are identified and supported. Her declared
purpose is to ensure that high quality provision can be delivered
by people with the requisite skills. Similar funding has been
allocated to help and advise parents how to steer their children
away from crime and the DfES wants to re-introduce foreign language
teaching to primary schools. The FSA has recently launched "Cooking
Buses" to tour schools and teach children, parents and teachers
how to shop and cook nutritionally.
c. It is essential to offer families help
in these basics and daily radio can so easily enhance such schemes:
sharing high quality songs, stories, games, rhymes and helpful
information and advice, produced by professional practitioners
and broadcast free to homes, nursery-settings and schools. Radio
can add fun and support in a friendly, non-patronising way and
play a significant role in helping parents, carers and teachers
in their challenging job of rearing our youngest citizens, in
addition reaching those mothers and grandmothers who, through
their religious or cultural requirements, may be more confined
to the home.
5a. Solutions: Community Radio has
been mooted as one way to serve children better but the costs
and constraints on this fragmented network could not allow for
the requisite quality and range of material. A dedicated national
network could support community activity andoperating in
not-for-profit public/private partnershipwould provide
the economies of scale necessary to make such a service viable
in the long-term. Hand-holding with the BBC, to generate additional
funding for programmes would be an option and, with careful management,
the network could well become self supporting over time.
b. There is no need for the BBC to assume
all responsibility for what is regarded as public service broadcasting.
Indeed it is desirable to spread such responsibility wider and
so encourage public private partnerships and greater corporate
responsibility. Children's Radio makes an ideal medium for this.
c. Last month Ofcom invited applicants for
a third national digital [DAB] multiplex, allowing for some eight
to ten new networks which must offer choice beyond what already
exists. In anticipation of this and in recognition of public preference
Don Foster MP tabled two EDMs [Nos: 2607 and 2608] about children's
radio, proposing greater protection in law, together with independent
research into the potential value of a dedicated service within
the new multiplex. It is an unprecedented opportunity to achieve
something innovative and worthwhile using this important new public
d. When approached on the subject, both
Ofcom and government have expressed some sympathy but, while clearly
mandated, and publicly committed, to protect children and provide
choice, Ofcom has declined to intervenechoosing instead
to rely on market forces. We believe the regulator, backed by
the DCMS, could take a more positive approach and tell the world,
loudly and clearly, that it will look favourably on a well-constructed
children's network as a component of any Applicant's proposals
for this multiplex. It should do this in spite of selective legislation
which favours children's television above radio and safeguards
listening choice only for citizens aged 15 and abovelegislation
that the government needs to re-visit as a matter of urgency.