Ofcom’s decision to allow ITV to dramatically reduce its current level of children’s programming has been branded “unacceptable” and “a disgrace” by former television presenter and head of the National Campaign for Children’s Radio Susan Stranks.
In its public service strategy, the network proposed it should be able to cut shows for youngsters by a third from 11.5 to around eight hours a week, in a bid to reduce costs. The media regulator approved the plan because of the increased provision of programming from other broadcasters and due to the proliferation of digital channels dedicated to younger audiences.
Stranks dismissed the move, adding that the under-16s should be fairly represented by all broadcasters and called for separate government funds to safeguard shows. She said: “If we want to develop the creative talent in this country, then children’s programming needs to be nursed rather than reduced. Children’s television in particular isn’t just about giving people what they want, it is about giving people what they never knew they could have.
“Television is important in children’s cultural development and they need programmes presented on the national airwaves just like any other demographic.”
In a statement Ofcom said the changes, which also include halving the amount of religious programming to one hour a week, were agreed to afford ITV a greater degree of flexibility when delivering its public service obligations in line with its review earlier this year.
The cuts come despite the network’s director of programmes, Nigel Pickard, having a strong background in entertainment for younger audiences. A former controller of children’s programmes at the Corporation, he later orchestrated the launch of digital channels CBeebies and CBBC before moving to his current role.
A spokeswoman for ITV said this year it would continue to broadcast around ten hours of children’s programming a week, with the main difference on Sunday mornings, when the channel mostly runs repeats. She said: “Eight hours is a minimum, which allows us flexibility to ensure that we are able to continue to tailor the schedule to best suit our audience and the commercial environment.”
Advertising on children’s television is in a state of uncertainty after a series of European Commission rulings banned the use of so-called ‘pester power’ commercials, which urged young audiences to put pressure on their parents, and after concerns were expressed over the use of cartoon characters to sell products.