The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Our Children’s Future: Does Public Service Media Matter?


By Colin Ward, Deputy Director CMF

Colin is leading the CMF campaign on the future of public service media for children and young people.

The CMF has launched a major new campaign to put the children’s audience at the centre of the national debate on the future of public service media. The debate has already started, with Ofcom’s consultation on its Small Screen: Big Debate report and the government’s appointment of a panel of "the great and the good” to advise on changes to how we provide public service media. Unfortunately, the Ofcom report contains very few references to children and the government panel does not have a single member who could be considered a current children’s specialist. That is why we have to make our voices heard.

The CMF campaign takes the form of a series of articles on the CMF website with contributions from children’s writers, young people, academics, futurologists and industry professionals. The articles address the main themes that will frame the coming debate – inclusivity, cultural relevance, education and citizenship – and ask questions about what constitutes public service content for young people, why it is needed, what they get from it, how their media behaviours are changing and the extent to which that affects their connection to public service content.

Over the next few months, we will commission additional articles that expand on those themes and explore how reform of the UK’s media sector can help deliver, for the foreseeable future, the best possible media experiences for children and young people. And we will address the thorny question of how we pay for the content and then get it in front of the audience, exploring a range of models for funding and delivery that take into account new technologies and changing audience behaviours.

The final report will be published in July and launched at The Children’s Media Conference to accompany a Future of Public Service Media Debate session, which the CMF will curate.

The purpose of the project is to create an open discussion around these questions and we want you to get involved. You can read the articles on the CMF website and then use the Forum pages to respond and discuss the issues and solutions with the wider children’s media community. If you have more to say and are interested in writing something for the report then please get in touch.

Ofcom - Small Screen: Big DebateWe are asking you to get involved because this is an absolutely critical moment for the children’s audience. In July, Ofcom will publish its recommendations to government on legislation to reform the UK’s public service broadcasting system, which, as the ‘Small Screen’ report makes clear, is creaking under the strain of competition from the global media giants. As we all know, UK channels are seeing their audience - especially the young – migrating in large numbers to international platforms like Netflix and YouTube. It’s clear our ‘mixed economy’ of a state-funded public service broadcaster and commercial public service broadcasters, which has served the UK so well, cannot survive in its present form. So, what should we replace it with? And how can we ensure that the new system meets the needs of child audiences?

An important goal for this project is to help both Ofcom and the government understand those needs and then accept they must put the children’s audience first when they consider media reforms. Although children and young people only form part of the national media audience, they represent everything when it comes to the future health of our nation and our democracy. If we don’t get this right for them then, arguably, nothing else matters that much.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)