The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

All Party Parliamentary Group AGM report

In June, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children’s Media and the Arts held its Annual General Meeting. There were announcements about the past year, guest speakers, and a discussion about the year ahead.

Jayne Kirkham, Clerk to the APPG, and member of the CMF executive group, reports…

The first business of the day saw Baroness Floella Benjamin and MPs Damian Hinds and Tom Watson re-elected as officers, showing that the group continues to enjoy widespread support from across all parties and in both houses.  Baroness Benjamin reported that as a result of the group’s 2013 AGM and the group’s subsequent tenacity, a new clause had been inserted into the Children’s Act that changed the regulations concerning children’s performance licenses. Adding a clause to a Bill is complex and arduous and Baroness Benjamin thanked her colleagues Viscount Colville, Lord Stevenson and Lord Storey for their support and hard work in pushing this important amendment through. Members of the APPG still have ongoing work regarding child safety online as well as supporting the new campaign to extend the tax credit to live-action children’s programming. Baroness Benjamin thanked the CMF for its input in both areas.

The APPG for Children’s Media and the Arts is founded upon Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: 'Every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.'  So in this the 25th year of the convention (and the UK’s signing it), the group was interested in learning how the UK meets its Article 31 obligations.

Action For Children’s Arts (ACA) has been the national voice of children’s arts since 1998 and promotes, develops and celebrates all of the arts for children aged 0-12 years.  So the APPG was delighted that David Wood OBE and Vicky Ireland MBE from ACA were able to come and talk.

They said that while there have been and are some excellent initiatives (for example the establishment of a Children’s Laureate; Welsh National Opera’s ‘Tiddly Poms’ prom concerts; the forthcoming Northern Ballet and CBeebies ‘Short ballets for Small People’; The Egg children’s theatre in Bath), these are piecemeal and the general attitude to children’s arts continues to be that it is an optional extra: a luxury or an add-on.  Arts critics and editors are not interested and neither are the funding bodies.  While children comprise approximately 12% of the population, only 1% of public funding for the arts is spent on them.  The attitude is still ‘small people, small budgets’.

The landscape painted by David and Vicky was pretty much the same picture we see in children’s media.

To address Article 31, Action for Children’s Arts is asking for three things:

  • a change in attitude towards children and children’s arts (that it be seen as an entitlement, not a luxury)
  • fairer shares of funding
  • For Education to respect and recognise the importance of arts not just as an 'investment for the future' but as valid in their lives now.
On this last point there was a tremendous quote from Martin Drury, founder-director of The Ark in Dublin:
A 5 year old is not a third of a 15 year old, or a quarter of a 20 year old, or a seventh of a 35 year old.  Being 5 is not a fractional experience, but is a very complete state and you only get 365 days to be 5, so it is really urgent that it is as rich and as comprehensive an experience as possible.

The discussion that followed was unanimous in its support for ACA’s three requests.  But it also recognised the need to find a workable solution.  There was much discussion of other countries such as Norway, Israel or Denmark which have national provisions for their young people. Could we do the same?  Could we insist on a percentage of public funding for the arts being spent on children’s arts (not just arts education)?  Could we bring arts back into schools, both in the curriculum and after school?

The politicians present were supportive but in order to push these ideas within Westminster, they made it clear they need facts and figures and ideas for solutions.  Suitably briefed they can raise questions either in the debating chambers or in writing.  The guests present were encouraged to also write letters to their own local MPs, the relevant ministers (Depts of Education and Culture, Media and Sport), as well as the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  Letters have to be responded to, questions have to be answered. But it takes time and effort.

However, as was seen with the amendment to the Children’s Act... tenacity pays off.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)