The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

All Parties Together

Jayne Kirkham, CMF Exec Group and Board member, is also Clerk to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Children's Media and the Arts. Here she reports on the APPG meeting which took place on 24th October.

You'd expect all parties at Westminster at an All Party Parliamentary Group meeting. After all, that's the point - a non-partisan briefing on children's media or cultural topics to inform Peers and MPs.

But on the 24th October the Children's Media and the Arts APPG moved briskly through its AGM business, re-electing co-chairs Julie Elliott MP (Labour - Sunderland Central) and Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham (Lib Dem), to welcome a rare gathering of all the parties engaged in the future of children's media in the UK - everyone with a direct stake in the Ofcom Children's Content Review and planning for the Contestable Fund. The talk was positive and informative.

The comprehensive briefing gave MPs and Peers the opportunity to catch up on what has happened since July 2018 when Ofcom called upon the commercial public service broadcasters (ITV, Channel 4, Channel Five) to address the areas of concern specified in the Ofcom Review of Children's Content, and to fid out what progress has been made in the development of the Contestable Fund.

This was the first time that everyone had come together since the crisis in kids' TV began some years ago, so the roll-call was quite a coup. But that speaks to the power of Parliament and the value of the APPG, which has been doing a lot of work quietly behind the scenes on all the issues and initiatives, including online safety, the tax incentives, the Fund and the amendment that led to Ofcom's new powers over the PSBs in relation to children and young people.

Even so, expectations were low that anything much would actually be said at this meeting, either about the broadcaster plans or about their interest in the Contestable Fund. The Fund - now known as the Young Audiences Content Fund - has been confirmed as £57m over three years exclusively dedicated to children's and youth content, to be available on Ofcom regulated channels and platforms - essentially the commercial PSBs - so assessing their interest was of vital importance.

The broadcasters do not have to report back to Ofcom until March 2019, so they are in mid-process. However, in fact all three had a lot to say, and all of it pleasingly positive. They each one recognised they have a part to play in addressing Ofcom's areas of concern (lack of content for older children (10-15) across all genres, the poor range of content to help children understand the world around them, and limited range of original content that reflects UK kids' lives) and are seriously considering how to do that in in ways which reflect their brand and specialisms. Each one seemed ready to embrace their part.

With DCMS and BFI offering reassurances that there is the will to make the three year pilot Fund work, both in the short and long term, and with a view on improving the range of the media offering for children and young people - not "more of the same" - the meeting was very positive and upbeat.

APPG co-chair Baroness Benjamin said she detected real progress and was delighted that everyone is now singing from the same hymn sheet.

The meeting agreed there is still much to be done. For example, Ofcom have commissioned research to better understand children's engagement with online video content - YouTube in particular. CMF expressed concern that future funding for the Young Audience Content Fund will need to be found. And of course programmes have to be commissioned, made and importantly actually reach their audiences, for the Fund to be deemed a success. But, there was a strong sense that everyone wants to play their part.

Baroness Benjamin said it felt like a new dawn for UK kids' media.

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