Digital Culture, Media Industries

Response to Ofcom Consultation on BBC Children’s news and first-run UK originations and the BBC’s request to change its Operating Licence

Due to significant changes in children’s viewing habits, the BBC requested that Ofcom change its operating licence to implement changes to its children’s news bulletin Newsround, and the Corporation’s quota of original productions for children. In November 2019, Ofcom opened a consultation on the BBC’s plans inviting other interested parties to comment.

This piece is an extract from the response to the Ofcom Consultation submitted by Professor Jeanette Steemers, Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries, King’s College London, Dr Cynthia Carter, School of Journalism, Media and Culture, Cardiff University and Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, and Professor Máire Messenger Davies, Emerita Professor of Media Policy, Ulster University.

To read the full response please visit here.

Professor Jeanette Steemers

Zoe Ball and Hacker T Dog celebrate CBBC’s
30th anniversary of live TV presentation (BBC/PA)

Sometimes the BBC doesn’t do the right thing and this seems the case with Newsround, its news service for children. Last December two colleagues, Dr Cindy Carter, Professor Maire Messenger Davies and I submitted a response to the BBC’s request to Ofcom to change its Operating Licence. The BBC is looking to reduce first-run children’s news hours for Newsround from 85 hours to 35 hours a year and reduce the frequency of broadcast news bulletins. As academics, our response is based on our academic research interest in children’s media, and on the BBC’s contribution in particular.  We know that children are watching less linear TV, but we argue that the proposed changes are hasty and under-researched. There is no guarantee that they will work or provide a viable online news alternative for children because the BBC has not outlined a clear distribution strategy, for Newsround in an online world. The BBC argues that it wants to reallocate its resources, but there is no detail, and crucially there appears to have been no consultation of children. Ofcom’s own comments throughout its consultation document suggest that they are not convinced either that children will use or find Newsround online, which begs the question, why accept the proposals and not seek to push for better ones that can be properly tested with the core audience

Our recommendation is that the BBC and Ofcom should take a more considered approach to test and analyse options for online news content and distribution and also crucially to consult children for a period of time over a year before making any final decisions. The lack of consultation with children is very disappointing. We do not agree either with an overall reduction in first-run children’s hours from the current 400 hours until the BBC has clearly demonstrated how and where the hours will be made up either as news content online or as other forms of public service content. Otherwise, this could set a precedent for further reductions in children’s hours. We propose that there should be quantitative quotas on online provision of news as a guarantee that the BBC will fulfil its remit.