Children used in television shows 'lack protection'

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The Independent Online

Pushy parents are often more enthusiastic about seeing their children on television than the children themselves, the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC) said in research published yesterday.

Independent arbitrators might be needed to protect children against parents and programme-makers who may not always act in their best interests, the report stated. It also warned news editors, picture editors and documentary makers against using images of children to illustrate difficult or emotive issues.

The BSC commissioned the research after complaints from viewers about the use of children in programmes as diverse as the BBC's Panorama and the late-night satirical Channel 4 show Jam as well as in children's shows. The researchers examined how children were used, how they were consulted and whether they were capable of giving informed consent.

Lord Dubs, the BSC's chairman, said: "This study demonstrates that good practice exists on the use of children in television. However, there is a lack of formal regulations, such as those in place to protect professional child performers." He added that the BSC would meet broadcasters to discuss whether the strict guidelines for child actors should be extended to cover all children.

Maire Messenger-Davies, who undertook the research with Nick Mosdell, a fellow Cardiff University academic, said: "We may need to think about reassuring viewers. Some of our families [in the research] were quite upset by some of the clips we showed them. We may need a 'No animals were injured during the making of this movie' type warning."

Close access to the makers of an ITV children's series, Mad For It, showed that while the show appeared anarchic on screen, the standard of care for and consultation with children presented a benchmark for the industry. But there was clearly sometimes a difference between what actually happened during filming, and how viewers perceived it.

The research revealed thatwhile 84 per cent of adults approved of their children appearing on the BBC's Newsround, only 21 per cent of children actually wanted to.

Parents and children interviewed agreed about the unfairness of making children compete for adult prizes, as once happened on Channel 4's TFI Friday. But they were conscious of mitigating circumstances in cases such as a Panorama programme where a young boy seeking an adoptive family was shown in tears.