Friday 17 December 2010

Why pushing boundaries on TV is no joke

Our concern about the media’s role in the creation of our hyper-sexualised society was illustrated during the final episodes of the X-Factor; the family favourite of the autumn season which was watched by almost 20 million viewers, nearly a quarter of whom are believed to children.

The programme featured guest stars Christina Aguilera and Rihanna, two of the world’s biggest female pop stars.  Rhianna stripped down to her underwear for her performance and Christina Aguilera indulged in an orgy of pseudo sexual grinding which was totally inappropriate for a pre-watershed broadcast.

Ofcom has received around 1,500 calls of complaint with a similar number made to ITV.  The Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, has expressed her dismay as have psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos and veteran music producer Mike Stock.

However the last word must go to a Mediawatch correspondent:

As a Social Worker working in Child Protection I was horrified to see the explicit sexual soft porn dancing on The X-Factor.   ITV appears to have no responsibility to its public.

The 'Powers that Be' should come and work for a month in Child Protection work, to see the results of children being exposed to soft and hard core porn images.  Many of these children then abuse their own siblings and friends and then to adult rape. 

When there is another James Bulger case the public will be jumping up and down saying Social Workers should be doing this or that.    What children see and hear whether on television, DVDs, etc begins in the home, and if they are fed with sexual images - they will ‘play it out'.

This voice from the ‘sharp end’ is a vivid illustration of just why our campaign is so important.  The media must face up to its responsibilities; our children deserve better.

Friday 10 December 2010

Too much, too young.

The premature sexualisation of children has long been an issue of concern to us; particularly the role the media have to play in the creation of a society which, in the words of David Cameron, we appear to be ‘sleepwalking to a place where porn is the norm’.

A survey by the Mothers’ Union published earlier this year found that two-thirds of parents thought television, films, magazines and the internet made children sexually aware at a younger age than they would be otherwise.  The report sited the erosion of the TV watershed as a major contributory factor.

Other research has found that contact with sexual imagery from an early age can have a devastating effect on mental and physical health. Possible ongoing effects identified by the research include: low self-esteem, poor academic performance, depression, eating disorders such as anorexia and increased sexual risk-taking.

This week Mr Cameron ordered an independent review into whether retailers and broadcasters should be subject to new restrictions preventing them selling sexualised products aimed at children. 

The review will examine the scale of the commercialisation and premature sexualisation of childhood and ask whether there should a new watchdog modelled on the Advertising Standards Authority to police a code of conduct on age-appropriate marketing, including the possibility of having sexually-explicit music videos shown only after the nine o'clock watershed.  

Launching the report Children's Minister Sarah Teather said it was the cumulative impact of things like magazine images and unsuitable products marketed at young people that were of most concern. 

It will be the fifth government-led review into this subject since December 2008, including a review by Linda Papadopoulos, the child psychologist, in a report commissioned by Labour and published in February this year. That report called for an online "one-stop shop" to allow the public to voice its concerns regarding irresponsible marketing that sexualises children, with an onus on regulatory authorities to take action.  This is clearly a ‘hot’ topic which won’t go away. 

The leader of the enquiry, Reg Bailey, has called for parents to send him examples of products of concern; further details of where this should be sent to will be available next week.   

We have lobbied government on this issue and we have also written to the Education Minister, Michael Gove, asking him to insert clauses in the upcoming Education and Children’s bill to introduce provisions to ensure that unsuitable sexually graphic material is not displayed at or below children's eye-level, near children's publications or without opaque sleeves.  We also called for printed media to be assigned age ratings such as are assigned to films.

Friday 19 November 2010

Concerned about indecent displays?

The Front Page campaign has just launched a new petition calling on politicians to tackle the problem of inappropriate displays of sexually explicit material.  Of themselves, petitions don’t usually ‘solve’ the problem but they are important because they show the strength of public opinion and they can often raise issues for debate.

This petition argues that explicit displays can cause children confusion and distress and give them a false view of adult relationships.  MPs are called upon to introduce and enforce measures to ensure that such material is not displayed at child-eye height, with children’s publication or without an opaque sleeve.  It also calls for age ratings, like the ones assigned to cinema films and DVDs, to be applied to magazines.

If you would like to sign the petition you can download a copy to sign here.

Friday 12 November 2010

Child protection before profit

The Westminster Media Forum is an opportunity for policy makers and government agencies to meet with key players in the media industry, academics and interest groups.  The subject under discussion at the most recent event was video on demand, catch-up and online TV.

The debate ranged from how television and the internet might look in the future to the economics of video-on-demand (VOD) technology.  Other topics discussed included how consumers might pay for new technology and how advertising might best work.

The Director of Mediawatch-UK was a panellist and she spoke about our concern that children are easily able to access post-watershed content on broadcasters’ VOD sites and called for greater protection from potentially harmful material.  It is bizarre that broadcasters are, quite rightly, unable to broadcast certain material ‘on air’ until after the watershed but are quite free to broadcast the same material over the internet at any time without there being adequate protection mechanisms in place.

One of the suggestions she made was that post-watershed material should only be available to viewers who had been subject to a more rigorous age-verification check than the current tick box system on offer.  She suggested a PIN number which could be provided by the viewer’s internet service provider, telephone company or the TV licensing body each of which need to paid for, in the vast majority of cases, by an adult.

Much discussion then ensued on the financial cost to the industry of such a system.  Unsurprisingly, there appeared to be little appetite from the industry to incur costs on a system of this kind.  It is our opinion that meaningful child protection should always come before profit.  We believe that there are feasible steps that can and should be taken by broadcasters to control access to post-watershed material by children.  Money should not be the overriding factor when our children are at risk.

Another delegate said that there were far worse things to worry about on the internet than VOD sites.  This may indeed be true, however, that is not a reason to ignore this problem.

We are very pleased to be able to speak about our concerns at this level and introduce another dimension into industry discussions on VOD.  Already we’re in dialogue with a number of delegates about ways in which the issues we raised could be addressed.

Friday 5 November 2010

Violence on screen - is it worth the risk?

The final instalment of the horror franchise Saw has topped the box office in its opening weekend.

Saw 3D is the seventh film in the ultra-violent series which has been described as ‘torture porn’.  Earlier this year the franchise was named the most successful horror series of all time.

Saw 3D has been classified by the BBFC as suitable viewing for people over the age of 18.   Once a film has been passed by the BBFC with an 18 certificate it is then able to be shown on television in due course.  We are concerned that once this film is shown on television (as previous films in the franchise have been) it will be very easy for children to access - particularly on video-on-demand services such as iplayer, itvplayer and 4OD.  Ofcom research shows that fewer than a third of parents use the password protected services available to screen what their children have access to.

We can no longer ignore the fact that what viewers see on screen has an effect.  Even the Government recognises this and is reported to be asking the producers of soap operas to include safe sex messages in their programmes.  There are numerous studies linking exposure to violence in the media with violent behaviour.

If drug companies now have to pass the most stringent test to show their products don't harm even the smallest proportion of takers, should violence on the screen be any different?

Bearing in mind the cost to society, and the misery of the victims of violent behaviour, if there is the slightest possibility that media violence can cause harm is this worth the risk in the interests of entertainment?

Friday 15 October 2010

Ofcom: failing to protect children?

This week we saw what has been described as ‘the bonfire of the quangos’.

Ofcom is to be merged with the postal services watchdog Postcomm but will continue to enforce the Broadcast Code in the UK.  As Jeremy Hunt told Mediawatch-UK last year ‘independent enforcement of this code is one of the things that we think Ofcom has done well’.

Mediawatch-UK can’t agree with this assertion.  It appears to us that Ofcom’s light touch regulation is not protecting the public.  This is summed up in a letter which I received from Ofcom which said:
 ‘material which has been previously broadcast on television without regulatory intervention is not, by definition, material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral health’ of children.
And this from the body which is responsible for upholding the watershed and protecting children from harmful broadcast content.  If this is their reasoning perhaps it’s only matter of time before True Blood is broadcast at teatime and the ultra-violent Saw films are shown during children’s television.

As one of my correspondents pointed out to me: “the lack of proper and effective regulation [in the banking industry] almost brought the country to bankruptcy and this emphasizes just how important regulation really is.”  Could we be facing a similar meltdown in broadcasting standards?

My correspondent considers Ofcom’s response to a complaint he made to be unsatisfactory and so he has referred it to the Parliamentary Ombudsman via his MP.  We will be watching his progress with interest. 

Friday 8 October 2010

When Coronation Street pushes the boundaries of the watershed children are the victims

According to reports, Britain’s longest running soap opera, Coronation Street, will be screening its ‘raunchiest ever’ sex scene on Friday 22nd October.  The episode will be screened before the 9pm watershed when plenty of children are likely to be watching.  A member of the production team has been quoted as saying ‘these episodes will be, without a doubt, the hottest ever shown by any soap’.  Apparently the producers are ‘bracing themselves for a backlash of complaints’.

In an effort to outdo each other and up their ratings, the producers of soaps are increasingly pushing the boundaries of what is shown before 9 o’clock. We are now seeing things at 7.30pm which, not long ago, would only have been shown after the watershed.  No longer is anything left to the imagination.

The watershed exists to protect children from potentially harmful and unsuitable content.  Because of this there’s an expectation that programmes shown before 9pm will be suitable family viewing.

From Lolita beds to child-size padded bras in Primark, this is all part of a gradual shift.  Our children are being bombarded with sexual images and references long before they’re ready to deal with them. 

David Cameron has condemned this shift, he said there’s a ‘creeping sense that we’re sleepwalking to a place where porn is the norm’.

No doubt we’ll be told this is all harmless fun and won’t change the way in which children who watch it behave.  We would argue that this is incredibly na├»ve and we’re not alone in this.  Earlier this week the broadcaster Sue Perkins, in an article about the portrayal of gay and lesbian people on television, said that soap operas are the programmes that can really change perceptions because they are "watched by millions of middle Englanders week after week". 

Research shows that exposure to sexualised imagery is linked to children's experience of increased anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, body image problems, eating disorders, self harm, and sexually transmitted infections. Children are also becoming sexually active at younger and younger ages.

Producers of soaps need to behave more responsibly; our children deserve better.

The real victims of our hyper-sexualised society

Radio 4's Sex Porn and Teenagers will be available until Monday.  It's a wake up call to remind us of the real victims of our hyper-sexualised society.

Friday 1 October 2010

Seen an indecent display? Make your voice heard.

We are convinced that the display of sexually graphic material is a contributing factor to the premature sexualisation of children which are seeing in our society today.

At present retailers have a voluntary code regarding where publications with adult content on their covers are displayed.   However, we are concerned that this isn’t being adhered to and children continue to be exposed to images which they are emotionally unequipped to deal with.

We believe the problem to be widespread but there are no reliable statistics to go on.  In minutes obtained through a freedom of information request the newspaper and magazine supply chain industry group also appeared to be unclear about the scale of the problem. 

We think it’s important that we find out and children are protected from these inappropriate displays of adult material.

Make your concerns heard

We have been working closely with the Front Page Campaign on this issue and we have come up with an easy way for you complain if you have seen a newspaper or a magazine with a sexually explicit cover which has been inappropriately displayed.

  • If you’re not sure how to go about complaining
  • If you’re worried about speaking out.
  • If you’ve tried to complain but the response has been unsatisfactory

By filling in an online complaints form here we can raise your concern with the retailer on your behalf and we can also keep a record of how widespread this problem actually is.  If you have already complained to a retailer please do register your complaint so that we can add it to our figures.

Friday 24 September 2010

Pocket money porn on display

Photo courtesy of The Front Page Campaign

We are concerned that sexually graphic material on the covers of newspapers and magazines displayed at the eye level of children is a contributing factor to the premature sexualisation of children which are seeing in our society.  In the words of David Cameron, we appear to be ‘sleepwalking to a place where porn is the norm’.

During the election campaign Mr Cameron promised that if he was elected he would bring in ‘a series of new rules to help families protect children from premature sexualisation’ 

This was formalised as a Commitment Number 14 in the Coalition Agreement:
‘We need to make our society more family friendly and to take action to protect children from excessive commercialisation and premature sexualisation … We will crack down on irresponsible advertising and marketing, especially to children.  We will also take steps to tackle the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood.”

We have lobbied government on this issue and we are hoping it may be possible to attach an amendment to the upcoming Education and Children’s bill to tackle the display of these publications.  We are working with several other organisations for whom this is a concern and we are asking the Minister for Education to insert clauses into the Bill to introduce provisions to ensure that unsuitable sexually graphic material is not displayed at or below children's eye-level, near children's publications or without opaque sleeves.  We also calling for printed media to be assigned age ratings such as are assigned to films.

Thursday 23 September 2010

Is the watershed working?

A new report on the commercialization of childhood was published this week.  Commissioned by the Mothers’ Union the report detailed the impact of advertising and marketing on children’s happiness.

The researchers questioned 1,004 parents of children under 18 and two-thirds of them thought television, films, magazines and the internet made children sexually aware at a younger age than they would be otherwise.  Some 67% of the parents questioned thought that the watershed was not being adhered to and unsuitable content was broadcast prior to 9pm.

This doesn’t come as any surprise but does raise questions about the Broadcasting Code’s assertion that programmes should conform to ‘generally accepted standards’; this survey suggests that they are not doing so.

Over the summer we saw a survey from the BBC which found that people didn’t mind TV violence - although they only asked 300 people, some of whom were under 18.  Ofcom also published a survey in which they found that viewers didn’t mind swearing – this time they only asked 130, this time from ‘minority groups’.

If you are concerned that what you've seen on television has fallen short of the acceptable standard please do take the times to let the broadcaster know; if you don't your silence will be taken as approval of what is shown and nothing will change.  Our website has all the emails, address and numbers that you need to get in touch with broadcaster.