The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Meeting the Minister

CMF, PACT, the VLV and Animation UK - plus some invited producers - met Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale on 23rd February

Anna Home OBE gives the CMF perspective... 

At the Children's Media Foundation’s request, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, held a ‘round table’ for the children’s media industry and audience bodies on 23rd Feb – to discuss plans for the White Paper on BBC Charter Renewal and the wider issue of the collapse of funding outside the BBC for public service content for kids.I attended for the Children’s Media Foundation, along with nine other guests:

  • Baroness Benjamin - Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children's Media and the Arts,
  • John McVay - PACT,
  • Emma Reeves - the Writers Guild,
  • Prof. Jeanette Steamers - Westminster University and the VLV,
  • Oli Hyatt - Blue Zoo Animation,
  • Mike Watts - Novel Entertainment,
  • Anne Brogan - Kindle Entertainment,
  • Olivier Dumont - Entertainment One,
  • Michael Carrington - Zodiak Kids

It was a very open, positive discussion. John Whittingdale began by saying that he didn’t and shouldn’t run the BBC. He explained that the agenda for the meeting was in the context of BBC Charter renewal, and two specific question concerning children raised in the government Green Paper on the future of the BBC - i.e. ring-fencing of the children's budget at the BBC and contestable funding to provide alternative commissioning and address market failure.

The whole debate was dominated by the problems of declining budgets, and limited numbers of commissions, which had led to severe pressure on producers’ ability to maintain their businesses and from the audience perspective, a decline in new original content.

Most people at the meeting felt that mandatory ring-fencing, imposed by government, was not a good idea, but that a similar result might be achieved by the BBC making commitments itself - using the existing mechanism of “service agreements”.

The joint industries proposal that the BBC commit to Children's budgets at 8% of the overall content budget (or  minimum of £100m) over the next Charter period was raised. As was the suggestion of greater parity with adult genres. It was pointed out that the BBC was only part of the problem made much more acute by the lack of commissioning by the commercial PSBs, including the failure of Channel 4 to fulfil its new remit to cater for the over-10s.

PACT raised the question of re-introducing the regulation abandoned in 2003 which made children's content mandatory for the commercial PSBs (ITV, Five and Four), to achieve more commissioning of UK children's content. The Secretary of State said it was not possible in the short term because of the length of the current licences (to 2020) although he did suggest it might be possible to do something about Channel 4's non-compliance with its commitment sooner than that.

John Whittingdale then asked for views on contestable funding.  There was considerable resistance to this if it implied cuts to the BBC Licence Fee, people arguing that ultimately this would result in more cuts to children’s budgets and would be counter productive.
However the concept of a completely new ‘alternative’ fund was not rejected as a potential long-term possibility and this idea has been pursued in my recent follow-up letter to John Whittingdale.

A number of other issues were touched on briefly, including the efficacy of tax breaks, in -house quotas, and BBC Worldwide’s role. But  the main themes reflected what we expected  - the two key questions in the Green Paper.  And the main issues remain open – will the BBC protect it’s children's spending in difficult times? And will the government agree (and write into the White Paper) that the time has come to research how a contestable fund could work in practice?

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)