Head teachers call for tough new TV watershed charter to stop children watching sex and violence

Education Editor

TV companies should be forced to sign a new tough new charter aimed at stopping children witnessing sex and violence on their screens before the 9pm watershed, head teachers will warn today.

A survey of more than 1,000 parents by the National Association of Head Teachers revealed that as many as 95 per cent were worried about their children witnessing “inappropriate material”, both on TV and on social media.

Soaps, TV reality shows and music videos are the worst offenders, according to the parents.

Head teachers also singled out Benefits Street, where a character was filmed shouting "piss off", Emmerdale, where a character, Belle, is trying to get pregnant to avoid going to prison, and Britain's Got Talent, which they argued should be accompanied by a warning that it contains sexual innuendo and bad language, for criticism.

In her address to the association’s annual conference in Birmingham today, its president Gail Larkin will say how much more difficult it is to prevent children from accessing “not just inappropriate but often obscene and mentally damaging” material.

“I am sure... you have been appalled at some of the content shown on our television screens at time when young children may well be viewing.” she will add. 

She will say that, despite regulator Ofcom taking action on at least 300 occasions, there has been no reduction in the use of “adult themes” in TV programmes before the watershed.

Mrs Larkin said she would be writing to Prime Minister David Cameron, who gave broadcasters four months to improve their policing of the watershed in 2011, asking him if he believes the situation has improved as a result of his intervention. “We all know the reverse is true,” she will add.

The NAHT will today call for heads, parents, TV bosses and regulators to support a new charter aimed at stopping children from being exposed to adult themes. It would include issuing warnings on pre-watershed programmes of any sexual or violent material.

In particular, Ofcom will be urged to take firmer action over breaches of the watershed, stepping up fines against offenders.

Amanda Hulme, head of Claypool primary school in Bolton, Lancashire, who will propose the motion, said of Benefits Street: "If I used those words in school in front of the children, there would be serious repercussions about it." 

The survey revealed the vast majority of parents (83 per cent) believed childhood was under threat from too early an exposure to adult themes. Nine out of 10 wanted greater regulation of programmes and 96 per cent believed bad language and depictions of sexual and violent behaviour were being screened before the watershed. in addition, 85 per cent thought children would think what they witnessed would start to be accepted as normal behaviour by children.

Despite this, though, only 34 per cent had installed parental controls on devices that can access TV programmes or stream material from the internet.

“It is not enough for us to accept potentially detrimental material as an inevitable by-product of a free media,” said Ms Hulme.

“There are things we can all do to ensure that viewing intended for an adult audience is kept away from children such as... tightening up on guidelines and fines for programme makers who screen adult material before 9pm.”

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