The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Bad News for Newsround

Ofcom announced on Tuesday 28 July that it was permitting the BBC to reduce its commitment to Newsround, allowing them to drop two of the three daily bulletins on the CBBC channel, leaving just one "breakfast time" news which it was relegating to 7.45 am.

Basically Ofcom has caved-in to all the BBC's demands, including a reduction in the number of news hours CBBC must show every year, and in the overall quota for originated content on the channel.

CMF thinks this is a mistake.


Background

In November 2019 Ofcom launched a consultation on a BBC Children's proposal to decrease the number of daily bulletins of their flagship news programme 'Newsround'.  They proposed losing the afternoon bulletin (with its 48-year history on the children's service) and the lunchtime programme, cutting back to an early-morning bulletin only at 7.45am.

In return The BBC promised to increase the number of stories covered by Newsround on its online service. The reasoning being that they could only afford the increased coverage by cutting the bulletins.

To achieve this the BBC also requested a change to their regulated quota requirements.    They wanted to reduce the number of news hours they have to broadcast on CBBC from 85 to 35 a year - reflecting the reduced output in the Newsround plan, and as a result they also wanted to decrease the overall number of original hours on the channel from 400 to 350.  Finally they also requested a change to the way the quotas are "counted" to allow them to include content commissioned specifically for online delivery - programmes made for the iPlayer - as part of their overall quota.

While the Children's Media Foundation supported the last request - to encourage The BBC to increase the output for teens and to offer it maximum flexibility in the way it gets its content to its viewers, we did not support the other proposals.

It seemed to us that The BBC was "shooting itself in the foot".  They had missed completely the public relations nightmare of apparently abandoning a flagship brand, and despite figures which showed online access to news services outstripping TV usage, we queried the way in which Newsround had been scheduled to times when fewer children were available to watch. We also queried whether cutting bulletins was truly necessary to shave costs. Surely there must be another way to maximise the benefit of having TV, and online presence, while seeking innovative and low-cost methods of putting together and transmitting regular bulletins?

We also demanded that Ofcom refuse to roll back the number of hours of origination for the channel.  If The BBC wanted to make changes to Newsround - so be it - but there is no way they should be allowed to make fewer programmes overall as some sort of natural "follow-on".


CMF issued the following statement on 30th July 2020 - in response to the decision and the BBC's plans.

Ofcom’s decision to allow the BBC to drop two of its three daily Newsround bulletins and increase content on the Newsround website is described today as “disappointing” by the Children’s Media Foundation (CMF).

The Foundation which looks after the interests of the child and teen media audience in the UK made clear its objections to the BBC proposal during the public consultation earlier in 2020. Now the regulator has, to all intents and purposes, acceded to the BBC demands, which CMF describes as “shortsighted" and “unambitious”.

Director of the Children’s Media Foundation, Greg Childs said today:

“While we understand all the metrics around audience migration to online and a smaller viewership for the TV bulletins, nevertheless the plan to remove the afternoon Newsround will shock many in the UK who have grown up with the brand over the last 48 years and now rely on it to provide trusted, balanced information to their own children. They are right to be surprised that the BBC would limit such a valuable brand to what is essentially online-only delivery.  As The BBC itself makes moves to reinstate BBC Three as a TV channel, admitting the online-only ‘experiment” was a mistake, the Foundation asks why an organisation which thrives on the cross-platform value of its brands would take the shortsighted decision to simply follow the numbers game and not consider the bigger picture in which Newsround is a major contributor to the BBC's reputation for truth, honesty, clarity and multi-platform delivery of information when it is needed.”

The Foundation considers that the remaining 7.45 am daily bulletin is clearly aimed at teachers so that they can use Newsround in schools. That is a valuable service. But if it becomes the only manifestation of Newsround's uniquely powerful brand - especially for young people in disadvantaged households who have problems accessing online - it ceases to be “the world mediated for me, as a young person” and becomes just another educational resource.

Anna Home, Chair of the Children’s Media Foundation says:

“This uncertain and volatile period is not the time to diminish the ambition of the Newsround brand, when life-changing news confronts young people daily and extremism fed by fake content is on the rise. The BBC should be taking a confident approach to Newsround as the provider of news of the adult world with a clear young person’s perspective. Newsround, with its high standards of professional journalism, is a symbol of the BBC's commitment to provide  a quality news service for its younger viewers. It needs to be more visible, not less, which is why this proposal, and Ofcom’s decision to support it, is so disappointing.”

Given the clear appreciation of Newsround during the Covid crisis surely what is needed now is a bolder approach to the future? The Foundation urges the BBC to reconsider Newsround’s relationship with the British public and seek out more ambitious ways of engaging with its audience beyond reliance on a single online platform and possible YouTube Channel.  Greater cross-promotion of the brand by mainstream BBC News outlets, positioning of Newsround in social media as accessible and trustable, revitalised scheduling of its TV bulletins to increase impact - none of these ideas have high cost implications, but all can bring long-term value to the audience, to parents and teachers, and to the the Corporation as it enters the next period of scrutiny of its role and purposes as a public service.

Industry Policy

One Response to “Bad News for Newsround”

  • To reduce childrens’ programming on BBCTV is deeply disappointing, and shows the trend to be reactive rather than proactive. Never has good, dependable youth-accessible news programming been more important. It is also strange to devalue and squander the value of inter-generational television watching. I am delighted Childrens Media Foundation is fighting this so vigorously.

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