The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Draft BBC Charter

The draft BBC Charter due to be implemented at the end of this year was published on 20 September.  CMF Chair Anna Home outlines the implications for the children's audience

charterThe government's draft BBC Charter was welcomed by BBC Director General Tony Hall: "This hard won charter is now an opportunity to write the next chapter in the BBC’s history…. It provides an eleven year Charter and a Licence Fee guaranteed for eleven years. It endorses the remit, scale and scope of the BBC and backs it as a great British institution."

Others were less enthusiastic...

David  Puttnam and Des Freeman leaders of the Inquiry into the future of Public Service Broadcasting, writing in Broadcast: "The draft Charter does not secure sufficient guarantees about the BBC’s future, foreshadowing a potential threat to the BBC’s status as a universal public service broadcaster able to provide a range of popular and diverse content free at the point of use..."

Most, like the VLV welcomed it, but with caveats. That is CMF’s position too.

Like others we welcome the security of the eleven-year duration, but are concerned about a general sense of increased control and potential loss of independence.

There are a number of terms like ‘distinctiveness’ which could be interpreted in a variety of ways, for example it could lead to pressure for the BBC to provide less popular programming. Our concern is that children’s content could be forced down an increasingly educational route which would impact badly on the concept of a full, varied provision for kids and its capacity to attract a wide audience. Children need entertainment as much as they need education.

Similarly there is also mention of the BBC’s scheduling not having an adverse effect on it’s commercial competition. Carried to extremes this could have a severely negative impact on the BBC’s freedom of action in building its relationship with audiences. In the past competition was generally considered a good thing, leading to better content and higher standards al round. It was not something to be feared.

There is only one specific reference to children’s content in the document. This is in the Framework Agreement which accompanies the Charter, in the section on Regulatory Requirements in the Operating Licence for the BBC's services.

Under the terms of the new Charter, Ofcom, as opposed to the BBC Trust, becomes responsible for the regulation of the BBC. It will have powers regarding content in certain programming areas and will be able to set requirements in certain genres including children’s. The Framework Agreement for the  Charter states, on page 49: "Ofcom must have particular regard to the desirability of setting or changing requirements... relating to the amount and prominence of genres that provide a particular contribution to the Mission and Public Purposes, are under provided, or in decline, across Public Service Broadcasters.... including children’s"

In certain situations, if for instance the BBC were aggressively cutting children’s budgets, this might be a positive and supportive proposal, but equally it could be applied in a negative, prescriptive way and will need vigilance from organisations like CMF if it threatens the range and popularity of BBC children's services.

In any case the on going role of Ofcom in relationship to the whole BBC will be crucial over the next few years.

Finally it is worth noting that CBeebies is described as a service for very young children, and CBBC as pre-teen, so again the 10+ audience is left in the wilderness.

Given some of the horror stories that were circulating earlier in the year, it is a much better Charter than it might have been. We will find out how much better over the next months and years. CMF will follow and react to developments in the context of impact on children’s content and provision.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)