Scheduling of family radio content on the BBC’s adult speech network, R4Extra, continues to be of concern.


Page : 1 2ALL

In February 2011 the BBC’s Strategy for Children’s Audio wrote off a core duty to provide children with public service radio and all content for listeners aged under-seven was replaced with 15 minute podcasts. This disadvantages those in homes without the internet, who may be the most needful group of listeners.  Remaining radio for children aged seven to 14 years was re-launched as ‘family hours’ on R4Extra – the official home of horror, sci-fi stand-up comedy.  Of the £640.1 million annual budget for BBC domestic radio, under £1million is reserved for children, who now have less licence-funded radio than ‘Children’s Hour’ provided in the 1940s when the Home Service was the only delivery platform.

A meeting of the Sound Start Group, hosted at the House of Lords by the Baroness [Floella] Benjamin; the Baroness Howe and the Baroness Warnock, recorded the concerns of attending parents, educators and child-care professionals and called on BBC Trust Chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, to delay the Strategy and review the role of public radio in children’s leisure and cultural development. The request was denied and a further appeal to his successor, Lord Patten, was also refused.

Radio has no watershed and, over the two years since launch, BBC R4extra has broadcast, repeated and rotated unsuitable material during daytime when children may be listening.  In addition, copies of this adult material, including offensive language; violent crime; horror; sexual content and adult comedy,  can be readily downloaded alongside the family hours.

By way of excuse, the BBC argues that R4Extra is an adult-focused network to which very few children tune and advises parental monitoring.  Decades of BBC research has proved that children are not drawn to adult speech formats, which tend to favour a middle-aged, middle class audiences, however, having failed to engage children via R5, R4 and R7, their content remains on adult speech station R4Extra.

Concerns about this conflicted scheduling, logged through the BBC’s official complaints procedures, have taken over a year reach to the Trust Editorial Team who have ultimately refused to escalate them to the Trust. Below is a link to this surprising and disappointing decision, together with our response.   Children do not pay the Licence Fee but they have a rightful place in broadcasting across all publicly funded platforms. We continue to lobby for that place.


To the BBC Editorial Complaints Department. Copied to Mr Hamer of the BBC Trust Unit

Thank you for your detailed rejection of the Escalated Complaints we have made about scheduling on BBC R4Extra, and for posting the findings in your 19th December Report. [Sept. 19th., P. 26.]

This disappointing decision appears to defend the BBC’s right to dispense with children as a distinct and deserving audience in public service radio and takes a selective view of ‘offence’ in the context of the network licensed to provide ‘family listening’. You suggest an arbitrary half-hour buffer is a suitable margin of protection from violent, sexual or racist material.

Your response confirms that BBC Editorial Standards make ‘context’ an essential component in judging whether or not content is acceptable to listeners and we maintain that this justifies the case we make. The examples we list speak for themselves and many are on very high rotation. ‘The Devil in Amber’; ‘Paradise Lost in Space’ and Phantom of the Opera log 10, 14 and 15 repeats and have been scheduled again within six to eight months.

This line-up of rotated repeats for adults is backed by iPlayer; downloads and, in many cases, commercial CDs. Space officially reserved for a ‘family hour’ is mean to the point of insulting, particularly as the BBC admits children are not drawn to this adult targeted format and that it requires parental guidance. Downloads of horror, crime and other adult material are also readily available with one click on the titles. By any stretch of reason a platform of horror and crime is not a sensible public-service radio home for children.

A proportion of output is family friendly and the festive season has temporarily increased such fare, necessitating extra vigilance to negotiate what is or is not suitable for young children who may well be listening in holiday time for ‘Horrible Histories’ or high quality stories and drama such as ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ and ‘The Fir Tree’, while daytime crime and drama slots have aired ‘Cotton Comes to Harlem’, a hard hitting serial of violence, sex and murder, one episode of which carried a brief warning to adult listeners but others did not.

After years of struggling with children’s radio the BBC has finally abandoned it with a Strategy based on selective audience figures and research predicated on past failure. An option to release remaining public archive to commercial stations [delayed by nearly two years] is raising concerns about top-slicing the licence-fees and commercialising children’s ears at the expense of their right to public service radio.

Given the Trustees’ endorsement of this Strategy, the question remains, could they deal with any arising concerns without compromising their position? Further to this, in the interests of transparency, please could you place on record the briefing and employment details of the Independent Editorial Adviser consulted for your response?

Susan Stranks – Coordinator Sound Start Group..


Page : 1 2ALL

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...

Slider by webdesign