The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Children’s Media Conference Round-up

The new CMF Newsletter Editor, Diana Hinshelwood, gives a CMF perspective on the UK’s major industry gathering, The Children’s Media Conference, which took place in Sheffield, 3-5 July 2018.

Although I’ve attended CMC before, this was my first conference as the new Editor for the CMF Newsletter.  My brief was to act as a ‘roving reporter’ and highlight important issues facing children’s media, as well as drawing attention to new initiatives.

The range of content and level of discussion and debate in the sessions and around the halls of the conference indicate that those who work in Children’s Media are passionate about protecting its integrity and purpose.

It started with the Keynote: children’s author Michael Rosen’s well received Opening Keynote covered problems with modern childhood, including failures in education and society. But a major thrust of the speech was to explore the effect of digital media on children’s lives.  While the internet has opened up creativity and given producers more options in publishing/broadcasting, easy access to content and social media has a dark side.  It’s offered children inappropriate material, and allowed those with less honourable intentions to target them, while also giving rise to trolling, bullying and online abuse.  And this affects the media makers as much as it does the audience. Michael related how setting up his own YouTube channel gave him the opportunity to reach a wider audience.  But he also told us how easy it was for his material to be sabotaged by others.  Once published, there’s a loss of control over the content, and no way of policing it.  The big question for media producers is how do we embrace the change while safeguarding the young audience?  Michael has some excellent suggestions, including producers recognising their intrinsic power as creators of content.  The debate about his ideas and suggestions continued long into the first night of CMC. It’s clearly a work in progress.

On to the CMF sponsored Question Time session, produced by CMF’s lobbyist Jayne Kirkham, which asked ‘What’s Next for UK Kids?’  A lively debate featuring CMF Chair, Anna Home and representatives from Ofcom, BFI, ITV and Indie Club covered internet safety, promoting diversity, the potential for future regulation and funding models - in particular questions of EU funding and the Contestable Fund – now dedicated to children’s and youth content.  The whole session was recorded, and this is the video:

The theme of internet safety ran through the conference, including the regular CMC session – this time with the title Is the Internet Really Broken?  CMF’s digital specialist John Kent was a speaker and will report in the next CMF Newsletter on the session and developments since, as the government prepares its Internet Safety White Paper.

Behind The Scenes at YouTube Kids was a popular session.  Interesting note - the lines for entry for this were longer than those for the BBC Commissioners session at the same time. Traditional broadcasters are aware that their main competition is now Amazon, Netflix and of course, YouTube. Despite being late off the blocks in accepting responsibility for the content it hosts, YouTube now wish to be seen as a safe platform, introducing dedicated Kids Channels and various parental controls.  While this is welcome, it’s still not clear if they can stop children from accessing inappropriate material. Another work in progress.

One key benefit of digital is the role it plays in education. The session on E-Learning from digital providers was interesting in one sense in that most of the material showcased as revolutionary was being done by BBC Learning years ago. No-one can deny the benefits of digital educational platforms, as the BBC has shown, though with competitors following its lead it may find it difficult to prove the ‘distinctiveness’ Ofcom is looking for from the Corporation. The best showcase by far was Sky’s impressive Sky Academy.

If “What’s Next” for digital is being hampered by concerns about children’s access, “What’s Next for Accessibility” is fresh, new initiatives aimed at inclusivity. Nathan Geering’s pioneering work using motion capture techniques use hip hop and  beat box for an audience with visual and audio impairment.  He is engaging and enthusiastic and producing content inclusive to all children.  Read more about Nathan’s techniques here.

The CMC Creative Keynote by film maker and activist Baroness Beeban Kidron was extraordinary and earned her a standing ovation after she related the life experiences that shaped her.  She is a passionate believer in giving a voice to those who are rarely listened to.  As her film career was formed by listening and advocating, it’s little wonder that she progressed to political activism.  She brought her reflections up to date as she entered the same territory as Michael Rosen. She described how she noticed the development of the digital space as an area where everyone is equal and treated the same, but then realised the flip side is that children are treated the same as adults.  There is no protection built in for them in a space not designed with children in mind.  Through the creation of the 5Rights Foundation, Beeban has become an advocate for rethinking digital spaces for children and creating a framework for a digital environment in which they can be safe.

Once again, the work is progressing…

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