The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Channel 4 – Commitment or Cover-up?

By Anna Home O.B.E. (CMF Chair)

The Children’s Media Foundation believes that the recent announcement by Channel 4 that it intends to increase its spend on content for ten to fourteen year olds from £3 million a year to £5 million a year by 2018 should be welcomed……but cautiously.

The background to this move by the channel is criticism by Ofcom in recent annual performance reviews of the lack of provision for older children and young people, which is a specific requirement of Channel 4’s licence. CMF has also regularly raised the issue with both Channel 4 and Ofcom but until now little notice has been taken.

So now it has been, why are we cautious?

We are concerned about Channel 4’s description of the planned 8 pm  strand, which they say ‘will play shows for the whole family, but feature storylines and themes that appeal to ten to 14 year olds’.

We believe that there is an implicit danger in this statement. Given the nature of some of the returning titles, much of the content may tend to be about, rather than for, tens to fourteens. It may appeal to them but it is not specifically aimed at them.

Clearly we cannot pre judge the new commissions but our concern is that the strand as described may not solve a long standing problem.

There is a real lack of content provided across the board for this audience. Currently CBBC says it caters for 6 -12’s, but in reality it is nearer to 10,  (hopefully this may change if funding is forthcoming for some new content to air in the extended evening hours.) ITV no longer caters for this audience and what little has come from Channel 4 in recent years has tended to be online, with a bias towards the older 14 plus age group.

Children’s television has always paid attention to the differences between age groups, and to their developmental needs. Ten to fourteen tear olds are still children, but most of the time don’t want to be seen as such. Even if they do sometimes revert to favourite children’s programmes for comfort, they won’t admit it. This age group is at a crucial stage of development - not quite children, sometimes teenagers, not yet adults. A lot is going on their lives and they need to see this reflected in the media content they consume.

They need more than constant social networking, and lifestyle and family entertainment shows. Many of the things which interest and concern, and indeed entertain children of this age are very specific to them, they want content which belongs to them, which reflects their world, their concerns and their voices, content which might well shock their parents occasionally.

It is hard for any commissioner working in a highly competitive market to allocate budgets and air time to such a specific, minority audience, but catering for minorities is what channel 4 is supposed to do, and in other areas does very well.

We hope that Channel 4 will fully acknowledge the importance and specific needs of this audience across all its platforms and that this will be properly reflected in the content which it commissions over the next two years.

Until we see that happening we will remain cautious.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)