Child’s Play

Like many children who grew up in the 1970s, my after-school TV viewing consisted of an hour or so (at best) of programmes I wanted to see, followed by a short cartoon (Paddington or Roobarb), then it was “out of the room, dad’s watching the news”. Kids today have never had it so good, with a whole raft of channels dedicated to their education and entertainment. So it’s absolutely right that the BBC plays a part in the mix. And you may have thought offering them a couple of extra hours a day would be welcomed. After all, surely you’d rather your youngsters watched a bit more Blue Peter than whatever Nickleodeon is offering?

Well, the answer, according to the Daily Mail, is a resounding “no”. Among other things, there are apparently widespread fears that the move will “lead to sleep deprivation” with “the nightly stand off” set to get tougher.

The Mail claims that the proposals have prompted “fierce opposition” from parents and teachers. But as usual, Media Editor Katherine Rushton has been somewhat selective in her conclusions. It’s true to say that many respondents to the BBC Trust’s public consultation raised concerns about extending CBBC’s hours from the current 7pm closedown to 9pm. And – perhaps surprisingly – over 11,000 people took part. So a scientifically significant sample.

But many of those people were also responding to a parallel consultation on plans to move BBC Three online, with the spare broacasting capacity being handed over to CBBC. Many of those were more upset that they be losing a channel, rather than keeping children up way past their bedtime.

The Mail goes on to quote a psychologist from Happy Sleepers, who is so outraged she says : ‘9pm is too late,’ she said. ‘Getting even one hour less than the optimal sleep recommended for a child has a significant impact on daytime behaviour and cognitive learning.’ And she might well be right – as is her company which charges parents up to £365 per hour for private consultations to help their children sleep better. No conflict of interest there then. 

The BBC really isn’t the demon here. It’s pretty obvious that the Mail would prefer it if perfect nuclear families still existed in their 1950s bubble, respectfully gathering around the communal TV set for but a few precious minutes each day. Has nobody told them that children today have laptops, tablets and smart phones, partly fuelled by a middle class aspirational society – in itself promoted by the likes of the Mail?

As the BBC Trustee Richard Eyre has rightly pointed out, the relationship between the TV set and the viewer is a partnerhsip. Parents have the right to use the “off” button. Crucially in all of this, there are no plans to extend the hours of CBeebies, the channel aimed at the youngest viewers.

Splashed alongside this article in the print edition is another, bemoaning an “invasion of yoof TV” as some shows currently on BBC Three are likely to be shown on BBC One and BBC Two, which will apparently “alienate” the over 50s. I take it, therefore, that nobody over the age of 49 has ever watched Being Human, Glastonbury or any of the other shows which have originated on BBC Three?

Once again, the Mail puts the BBC in a no-win situation. Indeed, Katherine’s bullet points – below the headline – helpfully signpost you to an in-site search engine which lets you find all of its BBC coverage.

I’ll save you a job – almost none of it has anything nice to say.

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