Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Below is a copy of my email to BBC Director of Vision, Jana Bennett. The email with subject "BBC's public service obligation to adolescents" was sent earlier this afternoon.

Dear Jana,

You may remember that you made the keynote speech at Showcomotion in 2007, during which you detailed some of the BBC's achievements. I noted with interest the claim to "help children understand themselves and their relationships in all their rich complexity and in particular, understand their world – begin to fathom their navigation of relationships, their situation, through the experience of others whom they can relate to."

You said: "We achieve something really important ... we play a key role in preparing and equipping British children for the lives they are going to lead."

In view of your speech I'm unclear why CBBC axed the 'No Problem' growing up help in autumn 2007, and why in winter 2008 most of the popular children's message boards were removed. Inexplicably, Aaron - CBBC's agony uncle - was sacked at around the same time.

In May 2006 CBBC had axed Byker Grove, and in a live Newsround interview (12 May 2006) Richard Deverell answered viewers' questions. A question from Mark asked "So now there'll be CBeebies for toddlers, CBBC for primary school children, BBC for adults. Where does that leave us teens?"

In reply Richard said:

Well, he's right. I think there is a gap there for teenagers, particularly for the 12-16 year-olds and actually the BBC has recognised this and they've announced that they're going to launch some new services aimed at exactly that age group. So hopefully in the near future you'll see some services and programmes aimed exactly at the people that he describes.

However, on 2nd March 2010 the BBC announced that BBC Switch would close.The BBC will no longer be able to claim that it properly fulfills its Public Purposes. In making the announcement the BBC acknowledged the "lead role that Channel 4 and other broadcasters have in serving this audience."

The BBC would therefore appear to have two options:

(i) Give an appropriate proportion of the licence fee to Channel 4 to pay for their PSB work on behalf of the BBC


(ii) Revert to an earlier ethos where there was no conscious exclusion of older kids.

Had a similar Showcomotion keynote speech been made in 1990 there would have been ample justification, as can be seen, for example, in this 1989 video of a viewers' help section from a Saturday morning programme. Furthermore, online archives attest to the gritty realism of past children's drama.

Please could you let me know how the BBC plans to deal with the issue I've discussed?

Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

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