Speaking with One Voice

12 July 2023

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Dr Cynthia Carter, 

Dr Cynthia Carter

Reader, School of Journalism Media and Culture, Cardiff University

Professor Jeanette Steemers

Professor Jeanette Steemers

Professor of Culture, Media and Creative Industries, King’s College London

What would be lost if children’s public service media content no longer existed?

A fundamental remit of the BBC, and other public service broadcasters (PSBs) like ITV and Channel 4, is to provide a high quality public service, that informs, educates and entertains people across the UK. As part of this remit, the BBC has, from the beginning, provided high quality, educational content dedicated for a younger audience.

They have created and nurtured a range of children’s programming, from factual shows like Blue Peter and Newsround, to live action dramas like The Story of Tracy Beaker or Grange Hill that directly relate to their young audience’s lives. Other PSBs have made similar contributions. ITV, for example, launched its Children’s ITV programming in 1983, (rebranded as CITV in 1992), aimed at children aged 5 – 13.

However, over the last 20 years, there has been a reduction in high quality, diverse content aimed at children. For example, in 2020 BBC’s evening Newsround programme was axed after 48 years, and by 2025 CBBC will only be broadcast online. This is part of a longer trend of declining children’s content. In 2006 ITV, facing falling advertising revenue and market pressures, closed their CITV inhouse production studio.

This is a serious problem. Children’s content produced by international streaming platforms has no obligation to be educational or to represent the diverse experiences and backgrounds of children in the UK. Despite the increasing ubiquity of internet access, and the rise of streaming platforms, 39.7% of UK households only use free-to-air digital terrestrial TV services, an increase of 2.3% since 2012. Many of these households are unable able to afford subscription services, and so rely on PSBs to continue providing high quality content for children.

In this discussion paper, Dr Cythia Carter (Cardiff) and Professor Jeanette Steemers (King’s College London) look at the factors behind this decline in children’s programming by PSBs. They ask, should policymakers and broadcasters put a value on children’s public service media, and if so, how much?

They argue that these services are vitally important to educate, entertain and inform a generation of British children from diverse backgrounds, places and cultures. They sketch out a timeline of key historical moments that have shaped the UK children’s media ecology. And they outline seven opportunities and challenges for policymakers, and six public purposes for children’s PSBs, to secure the future of children’s media.