Children report bleak view of life in TV close-up: Channel 4 hosts unprecedented forum for the young

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The Independent Online
TODAY'S children have a bleak view of modern Britain. They say that sex education lessons are a waste of time, that adults are prejudiced and refuse to listen to them, and that daily life is riddled with racism and bullying.

This unhappy picture emerges from a poll of a million children, supplemented by more detailed discussions with a group of 100, carried out by Channel 4. This was in preparation for a week-long season, called Look Who's Talking, in which children and young people gain unprecedented access to television. There will be news reports about children on Channel 4 News, the opinion slot after the news will also be taken by children, and a boy will comment on that week's Italian football broadcast.

Children even make three TV commercials about their most persistent concerns. One shows a class ignoring a teacher giving a biologically- based sex education lesson: at the end the camera alights on two heavily pregnant schoolgirls heaving their way from the classroom.

Another commercial shows a rapid series of shots of children pleading for an end to verbal bullying and racist remarks which have affected their lives. One of the contributors, Kay Sha, aged nine, said yesterday her contribution stemmed from what had happened to her at junior school in Luton.

In the opening programme, Child's Eye, three teenage reporters (selected after they wrote in offering their views) link reports about the state of Britain: they give a child's perspective on homelessness, New Age travellers, radioactivity, Sellafield and Northern Ireland. They approach all these issues with freshness, and emerge in a state of shock at the prejudice or suffering they witness. A copy was handed to Number 10 Downing Street on Sunday.

Miriam Demilev, 12, confined to a wheelchair with brittle bone disease, wrote to Channel 4 about the problems of access: on film she shows how she cannot enter a video store.

Pia Khan, one of the reporters, said yesterday: 'I'm an optimist: the main problem is prejudice. People in power need to forget their prejudices'.

Channel 4 is mounting the special week, costing pounds 2m, as a foretaste of its decision to start making its own children's programmes starting from January. The first will be a topical issues Sunday morning feature, Wise Up. It is also planning a weekly soap opera for 11-year-olds and upwards, to challenge the hold of Neighbours.

Children's television is currently under debate: the BBC last week said it was starting its weekday afternoon children's schedule at 3.30pm, to prevent it being outgunned by ITV's ratings lead. Meanwhile there is a strong feeling that older children and teenagers under 16 are not being catered for properly.

Phil Treseder from the Children's Rights Development Unit said Channel 4's consultation meeting had led to the creation of a children's steering committee, which aims to set up a children's union or pressure group, to make sure their views are no longer overlooked.

Rachel Hodgkin of the National Children's Bureau said: 'Since the James Bulger killing, children have been demonised, all the sins of society have been scapegoated on them. This initiative by Channel 4 is going against the prevailing trend, that children should be seen but not heard. It has managed, by completely focusing on children, to do in six months what we in the voluntary sector have struggled to do for years. Television is a wonderful magnet'.

Look Who's Talking, Channel 4, 25 September to 2 October.

KEY POINTS FROM 'CHILD'S EYE'

Children's opinions should be heard in all situations that affect them, and especially when their parents are divorcing.

Children should be consulted on all aspects of education, especially the National Curriculum. They should have a say in the way schools are run.

Bullying is a traumatic experience, and should be taken seriously. Certain characters, eg Mr Blobby, encourage children to make degrading comments.

Schools should teach about the problems of unemployment, life on the dole, how benefits can help.

Smoking is dangerous for children and should be discouraged, by banning all cigarette advertising and sponsorship.

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