Ofcom maintains its objective with the recently announced junk food advertising ban during programs for children under 16 is to encourage healthy lifestyles. Doesn’t Pact agree?
JM: Our view is that we want to have healthy children, but you can’t just think about their physical health, you have to consider their cultural health and mental health. In order to do that, they have to be able to view the culture they live within, and one of the key things for adults and children is to be able to watch programs that are from their culture.
What is the landscape like for UK production at the moment?
Overall, the money being invested into children’s, leaving aside the BBC, has been going south. Although the hours of children’s programming have increased, that uptick is happening because of all the channels providing it on cable and satellite. Our main commercial broadcaster has been exiting children’s TV for the past few years and continues to seek to do so. The secondary market, cable and satellite, invests very little in original programming, so if ITV were to no longer invest anything into children’s programming, BBC would be the only provider. We have been complaining about it for the past five years, and now with the food advertising ban, we have really tried to bring it to the top of the agenda. There is a problem, and we want to try to sustain a diversity of original British programming across the television schedules in the UK.
What is the government’s role?
The government’s first role is to understand that there is a problem and to survey the industry to find out the extent of it. Then if they are convinced that it’s a problem that won’t be fixed by the market, they should look at ways in which they can intervene to find a way to invest in British programming. I don’t want to second-guess the government in terms of what they may want to explore, but the first thing we’ve got to do is recognize that the intervention to restrict advertising basically just exacerbated a pre-existing problem.
What is Pact’s next move?
We will be giving evidence before the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee next week. One of our worries is that we think we might be one of the last generations that will be able to enjoy the British programs we loved as children with our own kids. Some original research is our main focus as we will try and get the Parliamentarians to have a proper debate about this issue. Everyone wants to have healthy children; that’s a no-brainer. But what hasn’t been discussed is whether everyone wants to have British children’s programming? If the answer to that question is no, then we will pack up and go away; if the answer is yes, then people are going to have to work out a way to invest in British programming for children.
Do you have any suggestions for a public funding model?
There is a whole range of options that can be explored. But it’s more appropriate for the government to look into that. It’s not my place. One of the big problems in the heated polarized debate between the food industry and the health industry over food advertising is that voices like our own – that didn’t take one side or the other, but were trying to call attention to another issue that no one was looking at – got lost. It was very hard to hear us because of the tenor of the debate on food and advertising. Now that that’s done, we are ramping up this whole issue. We think there is an opportunity for people to focus on it and hopefully find some sort of solution.