BBC Trust rebuffs review of children’s radio cuts …

The BBC has refused to re-think radical cuts to its children’s radio services.

The Baroness Warnock, chair of the Sound Start Group of educators, met Trust Chairman, Lord Patten, last month to recommend a review of the BBC’s Strategy for Children’s Audio, which wrote off the core service remit to provide children with advertisement-free radio.

Approved under previous Chair, Sir Michael Lyons, the Strategy axed 75% of children’s radio content and 50% of the budget. Protesters claim the cuts compare unfairly with 16% – 20% across adult services and have called for a public value test. They cite reprieved networks, 6 Music and the Asian Network, and Lord Patten’s personal intervention to save key departments of the World Service, which will gain protection from a Special Committee.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote, who chaired a recent meeting of the Sound Start Group at the House of Lords, says, “The BBC has a duty of care to protect and serve children equally in the cultural investment of the nation and radio has a vital role to play in developing listening, language and other life skills.

Education Consultant, Wendy Scott, agrees, Children are suffering escalating communication problems and radio encourages imagination, concentration, talking and play. It  adds balance and choice to the predominant screen and keyboard activity so often blamed for language delay, attention deficit and childhood obesity.

Responding on behalf of Lord Patten, John Hamer of the BBC Trust Unit writes: The Trust does of course take the BBC’s responsibility for serving children extremely seriously and providing ‘outstanding children’s content’ is one of the key editorial priorities for the Corporation  …  we do not intend to conduct a review of children’s services on radio in the near future. We will however be closely monitoring the success of the strategy and, should it not be successful, will ask management to look into other options.

Protesters argue that children now have less BBC radio than Children’s Hour provided in the 1940s when the Home Service was the only delivery platform.  They say the new strategy is discriminatory and short-sighted and they will continue to press for a rethink.   

The  future of the Asian Network is still under review.  With a primary target audience of British Asians under 35, the format is the most costly of all BBC radio services , averaging £12 million p.a. The Sound Start Group wants the network used for a two year evaluation of radio’s potential in children’s development. High quality music, song, fun, games,  stories and information would air for young children and their parents, aiming to serve all communities, including Asian families at a greatly reduced cost to the licence payer.

Broadcaster, Susan Stranks, who runs the National campaign for Children’s Radio, says, “Radio listening has reached a new high among adults and to disenfranchise children from this unique public service is indefensible. The UK should be leading the way but young listeners have been edged out over decades of major radio expansion.”

Note:  MORI and Ipsos MORI Capibus research has shown public preference for a radio network for young children and their families above any of the BBC’s five new digital formats, with the Asian format ranked lowest in both polls ..

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