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Early day motion 867



  • Session: 1998-99
  • Date tabled: 22.07.1999
  • Primary sponsor: Opik, Lembit
  • Sponsors:

That this House is concerned that the 20 per cent. of the population who are under 15 years of age are not properly served and protected by UK radio policy; and calls on the Government to support Children 2000’s proposal for an independent study into the ways radio can benefit children’s leisure and learning and support the Sure Start Scheme.

Signed by 96 MPs across all parties.

NB: Not all those MPs in support could sign the EDMs, due to HOC convention

Children’s Radio Channel

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.–[Mr. Dowd.]

12 Jan 1998

10 pm

Mr. Phil Woolas (Oldham, East and Saddleworth): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing the debate this evening. It is perhaps appropriate that it is the first Adjournment debate of the new term, although it is a bit late in the day for “Listen with Mother”.

I should first thank the organisations that have given me support and campaigned on this issue, most prominently the Children’s 2000 campaign, and Susan Stranks, who will be known to hon. Members who are older than me as the former presenter of “Magpie”, a children’s television programme. She is very well placed to speak on this subject.

I thank the Radio Authority and the BBC for their advice and information, and thank Ministers for their guidance on this matter. I should also mention in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Soley), who in the previous Parliament, as chairman of the all-party parenting committee, put this item on the agenda.

My argument in favour of a dedicated national children’s radio channel is fourfold. First, radio is a medium of the future. The digital revolution that is starting apace in this country will affect radio as much as–if not more than–television and other media. Secondly, radio, unlike other electronic media, is accessible to everyone who can afford a radio set in their house. Thirdly, at the moment, the children of our country, who make up 20 per cent. of the population, are not serviced adequately by current radio provision. Fourthly, and most important, children–particularly very young children–would and could benefit enormously from greater provision of a comprehensive children’s radio service.

Radio unlocks the imagination of children in a way that visual media–television and computers–cannot. There are strong arguments, from educationists and from psychologists, to back up that point of view. Radio provides great support, and has done so for teachers in schools for many years. It also provides support–this is often overlooked–to parents who are struggling to settle their children, especially in the evening. Most important from the child’s point of view, radio is great fun. It also helps the child to develop a sense of confidence and identity.

On the digital revolution that is taking place in broadcasting, the national franchises for digital radio will begin to be advertised in March this year. The awards for commercial radio franchises will be made in September. By the end of the year, it is likely that up to eight, possibly 10, new channels will be broadcast nationally. Following that, many other channels will be available, both commercial and BBC, locally and regionally.

Radio will become interactive. Children’s interests should be taken into account at this stage of the development of digital radio if they are to be given a fair crack of the whip. Radio not only has a great future, but it is very cheap. It is much cheaper to produce than television, and access is cheap. It is estimated that the average household in theUKalready has five radio sets, and few families do not have access to radio. Despite the recent rapid growth in the number of computers available in both schools and homes, access to radio compares favourably with television. To coin a phrase, radio is a medium for the many, not the few.

12 Jan 1998 : Column 119

The problem is that digital radio has yet to take off in terms of the number of sets in people’s homes, which is why the argument has been put forward in favour of using the analogue channels that are currently available. However, there is no reason why schools could not be provided relatively quickly, and certainly more cheaply compared with other media, with digital radio sets.

Children are being served by neither public sector nor commercial radio. The BBC’s annual report lists by category the number of hours broadcast on radio per year for each service. Of the 42,500 hours of radio broadcast on five national channels last year, only 403 were dedicated specifically to schools radio. The number of hours dedicated to children’s entertainment was even lower.

Television is extremely well serviced. It has good education and entertainment programmes, but it has been subject to intense debate and scrutiny. The Broadcasting Standards Commission report published in December examined the effects of television on children. In her introduction to that report, Lady Howe said:

“Children are less able to make their voices heard and their cause often has to be championed through the adult. Often this adult is the parent, responsible for the child’s well-being and concerned for its development. It is my belief that children have the right to access a varied and diverse diet of programming.”

If that is true of television, it is also true of radio.

Of the 220 commercial channels currently provided throughout theUK, none is dedicated to children’s services. There is broad support for the idea of enhanced children’s radio services. Not surprisingly, children’s charities such as Barnardo’s, Mencap and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children have strongly supported the idea. Parent groups, teachers’ unions and educationists have also signed up. Local government educationists and, I notice, the two Government advisers–Professor Brighouse and Chris Woodhead–have also given their support. Some might say that it is the only matter on which they have agreed in the education debate. So the support is there.

Less well known is the growing body of academic opinion from educational psychologists about the clear benefits for children’s education of the radio and sound tape media. For example, Professor Pam Enderby atSheffielduniversity’s speech therapy unit has argued strongly for the benefits of learning language and literacy from radio as opposed to the visual media of television and computers. Sally Ward of the speech language centre inSheffieldhas listed the educational benefits of radio.

The imagination which radio brings out in children is foremost. That is essential for language development and literacy, because of the relationship between the spoken media and literacy. That enables the child to develop a greater attention span, whereas the visual media, by their nature, often serve to cut short a child’s attention span.
Parents and others complain that children do not listen and will not sit still. Like the academic studies of this issue, I blame the television and computer screen. Radio has the reverse effect.


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