Monday 8 February 2016

Upholding the TV watershed

At the end of last year ITV began a new series, Jekyll and Hyde, which was broadcast at 6.30pm on Saturday evenings and aimed at a whole family audience.

The series creator warned that his programme would be ‘scary’ but few who tuned in expected to such gratuitously violent material so early in the evening.  One character was bludgeoned to death within the first minute and it was followed by further violent deaths including someone being set on fire and another being shot in the stomach.  Ironically, anyone wishing to access the programme on ITV’s catch-up service had to confirm that they were over 18 in order to access the show.

Following transmission Ofcom received more than 500 complaints, including one from Mediawatch-UK.  We said that ITV’s transmission of Jekyll And Hyde a full two-and-a-half hours before the watershed was deeply irresponsible.

The show’s writer says TV had to become more extreme to keep up with the proliferation of graphic content online.  Responding to questions before transmission he said: “Some of the parents might get a little upset and some of the smaller kids, but, you know, f*** them.”

Following an investigation Ofcom ruled that ITV broke UK broadcasting rules for airing “violent and frightening” material early in the evening when children were watching.

The regulator “found this programme broke our rules requiring children to be protected from unsuitable material by appropriate scheduling…the cumulative effect of viol

ent and frightening scenes made this programme – the first in the series – unsuitable for children when scheduled to start at 6.30pm on a Sunday, and without a clear warning before it started.”

ITV, which had argued that the violence was “limited and fantastical” and had refused to move the show to a later slot said that it had “taken this decision on board for future programming.”

Ofcom’s decision is most welcome.  Broadcasters appear to be increasingly tempted to break boundaries in a bid to grab the attention of an increasingly fragmented audience and so strong regulation is vital.  Although we have taken issue with many of Ofcom’s decisions in the past, on this occasion the regulator did what it describes as one of its ‘most important duties’; protecting children from harmful material on television.

Monday 18 January 2016

Online pressures affecting children's wellbeing

Childline, the confidential counselling service run by the NSPCC, recently released data on the issues which most concerned children contacting its advice line.

In stark contrast to the issues which most concerned children when the charity was founded 24 years ago, in 2016 modern pressures such as cyberbullying and social media affecting children’s confidence and self-esteem were at the top of the list.

Childline warned that Britain’s children are now “deeply unhappy” and have to deal with fears and worries that did not exist 30 years ago.  Many children today are deeply unhappy due to “the pressure to keep up with friends and have the perfect life online ... adding to the sadness that many young people feel on a daily basis”.

And it’s not just children who are made miserable by their online addictions.  Action For Children has found that a staggering one in four parents struggle to control their children’s screen use. 

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) advises that children should have TV-free days, or have two-hour limits on the time spent in front of screens. Quite apart from the aim of tackling obesity, it’s a good way of rediscovering the real world that exists beyond the lit pixels.

The internet isn’t going away so the challenge for parents is to teach children to self-moderate their screen time and to become useful members of the digital world.  As parents we also need to confront our own tendency to gaze at smartphone or tablet screens for that elusive email or message: is it really fair to take away our children’s screens while we kept snatching furtive glances at our own?

We are delighted that Mediawatch is able to play a part in informing and empowering parents through both our work raising awareness in the media and talking to parents at school events.  If you would more information on protecting children online please visit our campaign website Safeonline for further information.