Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Children's Media Conference - part 4

Henry Winkler was the keynote speaker last night. Winkler had struggled with dyslexia at school and was despised by his parents because of his poor academic performance. Eventually he became a successful actor and decided to use his experience in overcoming adversity to bring up his own kids better and, through the fictional character of Hank Zipzer, inspire other kids with similar difficulties.

The idea of covering growing up problems like those in Winkler's books is not new. Grange Hill began in 1978. That programme portrayed all kinds of children and the difficulties they had in their lives. In 2008 Anne Gilchrist axed Grange Hill, saying that children's lives had changed a great deal since it began.

Earlier today Jonathan Shalit from ROAR Global was interviewed on BBC News and he was careful to heap praise on the Corporation as the world's greatest broadcaster. Jonathan might even be right, but the trouble is that far too many people are frightened to criticise the BBC when it gets things wrong, as it did with Grange Hill. Professor Phil Redmond was a notable exception in that he stood up to the BBC and condemned the Corporation for its treatment of Grange Hill (see part 2 of this blog). It is worth mentioning the disparaging way the current Director of BBC Children's, Joe Godwin, referred to Phil's views (10 Dec 2009): "... just because a professor of something says so, doesn't mean it's true."

At about the same time as Winkler's keynote lecture to the Children's Media Conference, Sir Michael Lyons, Chair of the BBC Trust addressed a London meeting of the Voice of the Listener & Viewer. Sir Michael seemed intent on getting across how the BBC will be more careful about providing value for the licence fee payer. For example, a 25% cut to the total pay bill for senior management will now take place within 18 months rather than the 3 years proposed previously.

Election: Your Vote, mentioned in part 3 of this blog, was broadcast on 22 April 2010. It gave 140 children the chance to vote on the subject they were most concerned about. It was interesting to see that the economy topped the poll. Obviously, with a result like that, it would be reasonable to expect Newsround to have something to say about the Budget when it took place on Tuesday 22 June 2010. During his introduction that day Ore said: "Here's everything you need to know after a long day at school." But not a single word about one of the most important economy-related news items which will affect people's lives for a generation. Newsround's editor is, incidentally, a registered delegate at the Children's Media Conference.

There was a climate change summit in Denmark last December. Newsround said they wouldn't be reporting from the summit because they had considered the increased carbon footprint involved in sending someone to Copenhagen. Newsround's concern for climate change had clearly diminished by the beginning of 2010, with Ore flying out to South Africa to talk about World Cup preparations. And furthermore it seems that was only the first of three Newsround trips out there this year. According to his World Cup diary Ore will be flying out again in time for the semi-finals.

Last week on Tuesday 22 June Ore wrote "Being a Newsround reporter's a difficult job but someone's got to do it." But at a time when so many people are losing their jobs, and possibly struggling to pay the BBC licence fee, the BBC should be a lot more sensitive - and not just about climate change. Are three trips to South Africa absolutely essential? These are issues that the BBC needs to think through more carefully.

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