Who Cares about Kid's Viewing?

By Cary Bazalgette

kirikou-and-the-sorceress-michel-ocelot.jpgJoint winner in 2002 of the British Animation Award for best European animated feature, Kirikou and the Sorceress, released by the BFI, is a children's animated film that is a world away from Disney.

The value of high quality, indigenous media for children needs to be recognised

The children’s media sector is up in arms about the impending ban on TV advertising of unhealthy foods to children. ITV claim that this will cut their revenue by 18% and will consequently reduce or perhaps end all their UK-based production for children. Anne Gilchrist, Creative Director of CBBC, foresees a knock-on effect on BBC production for children, especially of expensive categories like original drama. At the Showcomotion Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield on 8 July, the industry vowed to initiate a public debate on the value of high quality, indigenous media for children.

I hear the slamming of stable doors here and the rustle of chickens coming home to roost. It seems that for all their clout, broadcasters have never been able to challenge the attitudes to children’s moving image culture that the UK has uncritically imported from the USA. TV and films are just bad for kids: we all “know” that, despite our internationally renowned children’s television drama and entertainment. Is it that the UK industry has been so terrified of being accused of “worthiness” and “nannying” that it has never dared open the debate about children’s entitlements to high quality media? Or is it that they talk only amongst themselves and have failed to notice the blame culture that ascribes a myriad of social ills to children’s media consumption?

The quality of children’s TV in the UK has so far protected the film industry from blame for its failure to develop a decent indigenous film culture for children, or to look to other sources than the US to import high quality material. Now it looks as though that excuse may now be wearing even thinner. Films for the under-12s have never come very far up the agenda of the UK’s script developers, producers, distributors and exhibitors. But the experience of the UK’s five major film festivals for children suggests a different scenario: children can be tempted to watch a more diverse range of films, but it is teachers, rather than parents, who are more likely to take risks on their behalf, and who are less vulnerable to the massive marketing and merchandising of mainstream family films.

The problem is that all these are one-off viewing experiences. Festivals are not enough: we need investment in more sustained provision, so that children have opportunities to see a more diverse range of material on a regular basis. Unfortunately, debate about children’s media is preoccupied with the growth of individual consumption through online services and mobile devices, while failing to see a remarkable new opportunity for collective viewing, which is taking place right under our noses.

By 2012 all schools will be open from 8am to 6pm, all year round, offering a wide range of care and activities. Only five of those 10 hours a day will be curriculum time. An audience of at least six million will therefore be available for at least some of the remaining five hours a day to view moving images, whether broadcast, in cinemas, on DVD or online. There is an opportunity here to help build a strong indigenous moving image culture for UK children. The question is, who wants to take it?

Cary Bazalgette is the Education Policy Adviser at the British Film Institute.

See the BFI site for more on Kirikou and the Sorceress http://www.bfi.org.uk/booksvideo/video/details/kirikou/index.html