Sunday, May 10, 2009

Green shoots?

In its first few years of existence Newsround broke new ground and was prepared to be innovative. But in the last few years there's been a steady decline in Newsround's audience. The BBC Trust, in offering its views on children's services recently, attempted to put the blame on schedule changes and chose to ignore the likelihood that programme content and associated editorial decisions could be significant factors for the decline in interest. Complaints are continuing regarding the December 2008 message board deletions, and CBBC's unwillingness to take any notice of users.

The programme itself has become less willing to push forward the boundaries, precisely at a time when, with competing new media, BBC journalists need to be more prepared than ever to challenge and question. All too often Newsround is simply padded with the non-controversial and lazy option of sports news.

As a result Newsround has become boring and pretty much irrelevant to kids.

Despite a May 2007 promise to participate in Takeover Day, come November 2007 there was not a single mention of the event, not even coverage on Newsround's website. No coverage or participation in 2008 as well. And when last year a group of charities and young people launched the Young Equals campaign, including the Young Equals day of action on 28 August 2008, none of this was reported by Newsround.

Friday's Newsround programme, looked slightly more encouraging (Friday 8 May at 5.05pm)

Politics - row about MPs' expenses [1'48"]
Road safety [0'13"]
Neglected animals on a farm [0'13"]
Male primary school teachers [1'58"]
Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg [1'44"]
Preview of Sportsround [0'20"]

The first news item was about why MPs are under fire for expense claims - a good story choice because it shows the need for journalistic scrutiny.

Sonali: First to a row about politicians being greedy. Over the past few months people have been getting more and more angry about the amount of our money being spent on their homes. And today we found out the surprising things they're spending the cash on.

Sonali's video report which followed included an interview with the BBC's top political journalist, Nick Robinson.

The next report on Friday was about kids' road safety in the UK. Sixteen countries have a better record, and the government needs to do more. Then came another short item, this time about the Gray family who had neglected animals on their farm in Buckinghamshire. The fourth item considered the dearth of male teachers in British primary schools (see blog on 26 April 2009). Yet even on this report Newsround couldn't quite manage to steer clear of gender stereotyping.

Sonali: When Newsround asked you what job you'd like to do when you're older, becoming a teacher was the top choice for girls. But for boys it was way down list and it seems the same story in primary school classrooms around the country. Gavin's been finding out more.

Friday's NR showed signs of being a bit more willing to question the existing order of things. It showed that sometimes adults make mistakes or do things because of their own selfish interests. Ultimately though, if CBBC want to increase its audiences it needs to more frequently challenge viewers and make programmes more relevant. Are we seeing the green shoots of a renaissance? If so, there are a few things Newsround might want to look at.

Young Equals is unhappy that new equality proposals, to be debated tomorrow, don't go further to stop discrimination against children. Why not report what the four children's commissioners, children's rights groups and individual kids are doing to help promote equality and fairness? Earlier this year the commissioners gave evidence to the joint parliamentary committee on human rights, but regrettably nothing on Newsround. And what about those CBBC message boards? The criticism continues, and still not a whisper from Newsround. The UK Youth Parliament is due, this summer, to have a plenary session in the House of Commons but up till now Newsround has demonstrated that it doesn't do youth democracy.

CBBC needs to get out of the rut of management's rigid target ages, which were endorsed uncritically by the BBC's supine sovereign body.

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