The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Progress on Policy

Three major policy areas (with a fourth lurking in the shadows) dominate the policy landscape this summer.  progress is being made in all cases and on roughly the same timetables.

Ofcom continues the work of its Children's Content Review, ten years on from the last review which discovered the collapse in UK commissioning and the retreat from kids' content at Channel 4 and ITV, the purpose of the current review is brought into sharper focus by the powers invested in Ofcom in the Digital Economy Act late last year.  They can now - if they see a need - regulate ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 to carry more children's programmes. They have also been given a certain level of flexibility to do that through the use of channels other than the main ITV1 channel etc - making the process more palatable for the broadcasters.

However the Act does not say they MUST regulate, only that they MAY...  if conditions in the kids' market are deemed to be failing the UK children's audience.  Simon Terrington from Ofcom will be at CMC to reveal how far the review has progressed.  A report is expected in the late summer and then the crucial decision-making process will begin.

Second - the DCMS is now meeting the BFI on a fortnightly basis to work out the detailed implementation and organisational rupture of the new Public Service Contestable Fund. Once again the temptable points towards publication of a report on the plan by late summer, further industry liaison over the finer points of detail, and then implementation of the plan at the end of the year with a view to applications being in for the first round of funding in April 2019.

CMF has obtained confirmation from the Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, that the fund will be dedicated to the children's and youth audience as was announced by his predecessor in December last year, but which had been rumoured to be "diluting" to include other genres. The children's and youth sector can be confident they will be the recipients of the £20m a year in the pilot fund.

And third - the government continues to work on its Safer Internet Strategy, following its Green Paper and consultation earlier in the year, while the House of Lords continues its inquiry into Regulation of the Internet.  The DCMS timetable is to publish a White Paper before the end of 2018 which will include concepts such as the social media code of practice they want he platter operators like YouTube and Facebook to sign up to.  If the platforms fail - there is still the possibility the government will regulate.  Internet safety os seen as something of a flagship policy area for the government now as it reacts to the various storms to hit social media sites in the last 12 months, from election rigging to body shaming, bullying, and online addiction - the knives are out for the social media evangelists, so we can expect change over the next couple of years.

CMF predicted a parental and eventually societal backlash a good few years back and has been trying to get the social media platforms to accept their responsibility as publishers and towards the children in their audience.

While new voluntary codes or even regulations might not go that far, the Conservative Chair of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee - which has Facebook very much in its sights - told CMF at a recent public meeting that he thought it unlikely they could ever admit to being the publishers of content, but they might be pushed as far as recognising their liability for the content they carry. That principle would alter the way in which they might have to behave as soon as inappropriate or offensive content was flagged, for example. It being no longer a matter of their choice and their policies, but a legal obligation to remove within a reasonable time.

Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Cultural Industries at the DCMS has sent a video message to the session CMF pwill produce at the children's Media Conference in Sheffield on 3 July.  She outlines the process on all thee of the policy areas above - Ben Roberts from the BFI will also attend the session to clarify progress on the Contestable Fund.

The one dark cloud is that there are storing rumours that the DCMS will be inclined to further regulate against high sugar, salt and fatty foods - as part of the government's obesity strategy.  This is despite there being no evidence of a decline in obesity rates since the last ban was introduced.  Extending the ban will have an inevitable affect on the advertising revenue that can be made around chidlren's content. We have been here before - the law of unforeseen consequences - as one regulation kicks in an industry's funding can be decimated.  CMF will be alert to the proposals as they emerge.

Clearly major changes are ahead. It's a testament to the "long game" played by CMF in building awareness amongst politicians, civil servants and regulators that there are problems with kids' media funding and with the delivery platforms that currently don't care about kids. Allied to other audience groups such as the VLV  and industry bodies such as Pact and AnimationUK - the effectiveness of this groundwork is now beginning to show real progress in at least three of the four areas listed above.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)