A leaked memo from the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)is aiming to ban children from appearing on TV unless they are singing, acting or dancing. The aim is noble because of some of the reality shows that have shown children such as Channel 4's Boys and Girls Alone, but the implications yet again go far further than Labour seem to think, or have thought. Factual shows like Blue Peter or Newsround rely on their young viewers input.
The memo sent to local authorities who have to licence children to appear on TV is the first to update the rules since 1968. It moves the latest time which 5 to 16-year-old can perform from 7pm to 11pm, but compulsory 'emotional risk assessments' would be introduced, as well as programme makers having to engage child psychologists to ensure the child's well being. However, it is the ban on certain types of appearance that is going to hit factual children's TV hardest. The memo says:
"We will highlight the application of existing primary legislation that says that many more factual programmes must be licensed, and that children under 14 cannot take part unless they are singing, dancing or acting."
The broadcasters are up in arms at this advise another Government tightening of control, the BBC issued a statement saying:
"The BBC understands the need for sensible licensing of child performers but is very concerned that it looks like the participation of children under 14 in factual entertainment shows could be threatened by an over-bureacratic and over-extensive system.
"This would have a direct and negative impact on such shows as Newsround's Press Packers, and CBBC's Me and My Movie as it would prevent children’s voices being heard in entirely appropriate circumstances."
All sorts of programmes would be affected, even Children in Need and Comic Relief would be affected as the documentaries to show the needs that they aim to help would surely not fit within the letter of that statement.
John McVay, the chief executive of the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television, which represents the Independent Producers considers the latest Government clampdown 'absolutely chilling' saying:
"It would be a disaster for the young children of Britain if they weren't able to see themselves on television doing the everyday things that they enjoy."
What is telling is that even those groups that were lobbying for tighter control have said that the Government has gone too far. Melanie Gill, the forensic child psychologist who led the complaints against Boys and Girls Alone said:
"It takes it too far, it's throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We think that children under 14 should be allowed to be on television, as long as it’s done in a psychologically safe environment."
The DCSF rather that denying or clarifying the ability for factual TV makers to use children sensibly and appropriately issued a statement saying:
"This is not about clamping down on popular talent programmes but making sure that the regulations and guidance, which haven’t been updated in 40 years, enables children to take full advantage of the opportunities television and other forms of entertainment can offer in a safe and sensible way."
How are they going to take full advantage if they can only perform on TV? Think of all the stuff we would have missed under these rules. Why Don't You? or Jim'll Fix It couldn't have been made, now could Swap Shop or Tiswas. On Blue Peter we wouldn't have seen young Lewis Hamilton racing a remote-controlled car but the fire taking light in front of the Girl Guides would have been fine as they were singing. There would be no more Junior Mastermind candidates under 14. Even schools educational programming would take a hit in some aspects unless we start having singing and dancing Maths programmes.
For those of us who remember Margaret Thatcher as the milk snatcher it seems that on Gordon Brown's watch our country is rapidly turning into Vulgaria from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which him child catcher in chief.