BBC Charter Renewal


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“Providing outstanding children’s content is one of the BBC’s five editorial priorities as set out in the ‘Putting Quality First’ strategy. We believe it is very important that the BBC serves children across all its platforms as part of its public service mission”. BBC Trust Review of Children’s Services 2009

Regardless of this mission statement, by Charter Renewal 2017, young listeners will have already suffered three years without any public service radio for them.

2b.The Sound Start Group supports the principle of licence fees to fund public service broadcasting for children and grownups. The advantages include diversity; high quality; education; innovation;  entertainment; information; original productions; pluralism; accessibility; inclusion of minorities; free and free of advertising and, most importantly, independence from commerce and government. We welcome the Select Committee’s Consultation in the hope that it will lead to better understanding of what children want and also what they need from UK broadcasting services.

Charter Renewal is an opportunity to reintroduce children to the lifetime of discovery and enjoyment radio can offer, with the BBC leading the way.

3b.The loss of BBC Children’s Radio and neglect of young listeners’ rights and needs contrasts grimly to greatly increased adult choice over decades of expanding public radio space.  The BBC runs 59 radio stations, available on analogue, digital and/or internet radio but none is for the community of listeners aged under 16  who represent 18% of the population and arguably have most need of advertisement-free radio.

4b.The value of learning to listen when young cannot be overestimated. Radio fires the imagination; aids concentration; helps language and speech acquisition; develops coordination; encourages critical thinking and promotes a sense of place. Radio can greatly help sick and  home-schooled children, and families learning English as an additional language. It is also great fun!

5b.The demise of this vital element of our children’s culture is well documented in successive BBC Service Licences for R4, R5 and, particularly, R7 and R4 Extra during their 13 years on air.  Successive redrafting, ratified by Governors and Trustees, systematically cut BBC Children’s Radio to zero last year. Only some schools content for downloading at 3am remains

.6b.Replacement podcasts for the under sixes – proposed as 20 minutes in the BBC’s Strategy for Children’s Audio – 2011– average eight minutes of variable quality in sound and content, mainly featuring TV characters.

A protest meeting in the House of Lords called for further review and parents complained that, compared to a pre-set push button digital radio even a toddler could use, downloads needed adult supervision, technical knowhow and internet access, unavailable to many families. The cuts were implemented with immediate effect.  Conversely R6, World Service and the Asian Network all gained reprieves

7b.Minority interests for grownups, including classical and black music; South Asian interests; cricket and so on, continue to receive millions of pounds of public money while Children’s Radio has been reduced to nothing.

8b.The BBC justified its way out of this duty with a string of hollow excuses:

Children only want TV and pop music … the rest can always buy our tapes/CDs.”

Adults like TV and pop music and can purchase CDs. They also enjoy a wealth of traditional radio choice on analogue, digital and internet platforms

“Children only want radio via computers and personal devices”.

Millions of adults access their radio via internet and personal devices. They also enjoy a wealth of traditional radio choice.

“Children may no longer be able to listen without visual stimulation.”

If this sorry scenario were true, the BBC is culpable. Children were not listening because the BBC failed to engage them and neglected to flag up the meagre content offered – as is well documented in BBC Trust and Executive Reviews.

And most self-damning of all:

 “Children aren’t drawn to our adult speech networks”.

BBC research has consistently shown this, so why bury children’s content in unsuitable schedules for so many years – the last and least appropriate being R4Extra with its Service Licence billed as home of stand-up comedy, horror and sci-fi?

 9b.R4 and 4Extra controller Gwyneth Williams announced in 2014 that BBC 4Extra would stop broadcasting the only remaining BBC radio programme aimed at children because listening by children aged 10 to 14 is so low and the station attracted a largely middle aged audience.

The 4O’Clock Show was made for children aged 6 to14 and their families but the under 10s are missing from audience figures. Might they not have been listening alongside their middle aged grandparents? In any case the BBC should not be led by audience count but rather be fulfilling public needs and setting high standards for others to aspire to.

The 4O’clock Show was a magazine format, linked by Mel Giedroyc, which included clips repeated from R4: hat making; cooking; gardening, etc., with occasional bespoke items, including a family quiz and a Dick and Dom science series. This single hour, five days a week, ended with 10minutes of serialized children’s stories, often from BBC commercial CDs. Best bits were repeated on Sundays alongside classic family drama – now also shelved.

10b.Out of the annual radio spend of £650m, the BBC’s Strategy for Children’s Audio allocated just £600k for children’s radio – less than the then DG Mark Thompson’s salary.  This minuscule budget now goes to internet podcasts and listening time goes to grownups.

11b.By way of mitigation for the cuts, leasing of archived children’s content to interested independents was prioritised in the Children’s Audio Strategy – later to be abandoned, due to unforeseen copyright difficulties.


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