Part 1: Children’s media legislation
Over 70 years ago, the first children’s T.V. programme was broadcast in the UK – Children’s Hour. Fast forward through years of Watch With Mother, Blue Peter and Byker Grove and we hit the 21st century hard. Children are no longer limited to sharing channels or even a screen with the rest of the family; nowadays, the majority have their own mobile devices to access a whole array of children’s media, ranging from on-demand programmes and films to games, apps, music and more.
For children born in the digital era, the power is well and truly within their hands.
Speakers at the Children’s Media Conference (CMC) this year questioned putting children into such a vulnerable position, exposing them to content that they aren’t emotionally or mentally mature enough for. Margot James (Minister for Digital and Creative Industries) said that “more needs to be done to protect children from a range of online harms”.
Meanwhile, Baroness Beeban Kidron OBE (founder of 5Rights) really got to the heart of the matter, explaining that “…the internet was designed to be a place with no one gatekeeper, and equality for all. But if this is the case, this meant children were to be treated the same as adults, in a space and digital environment never really designed for them.”
An example of this was illustrated by the immersive video installation ‘Listen’ by Manja Ebert, on display at the CMC Playground exhibition.
Standing in the middle of the four screens, you are surrounded by the noise and confusion of multiple children singing covers of pop songs of varying quality. By sharing their videos these children are trying to stand out, yet none of them are. What does this mean for self-expression, and also, for the children, tweens and teens watching such videos? But this is very much just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the content children are exposed to online.
Children aren’t just naive to the material on the internet, however, but also to data and privacy issues. Across the sessions, there was agreement that the industry has a responsibility to keep children safe, without depriving them of the opportunities that technology can offer. In his opening keynote, Michael Rosen (acclaimed children’s poet, broadcaster, columnist and former Children’s Laureate) warned that legislation would come one way or another, and suggested that the industry would benefit from collaborative self-regulation.
If the industry doesn’t sign up voluntarily, we run the risk of a knee-jerk reaction to stories in the press – such as the recent pulling of CloudPets from the virtual shelves of Amazon and eBay over security concerns that could do more harm than good.